Fall Out Boy: Infinity On High

It’s bye bye emo, hello big time as scene stalwarts broaden their horizons

Emo {ee-mow} adjective. 1) A sub-genre of hardcore punk rock that is both emotional and hardcore, first coined in the mid-’80s to describe the Washington DC hardcore scene, gaining popularity in the ’90s and ’00s. 2) The most dangerous form of music known to man.

Brandon Flowers was right. Think about it: forget about gangsta rap and black metal, they’re yesterday’s social plagues. No, the one you’ve really got to watch out for is emo. Once you go black, you’ll forever be tarnished; a malnutritioned wimp, consigned to spend the rest of your days nurturing the Smiths-shaped chip on your shoulder and taking yet another public stoning in the NME letters page. It’s a lonely, thankless existence, and it’d be enough to drive anyone to diabolical thoughts. So, it should come as some surprise that Fall Out Boy’s third album sounds closer to a night on the razz with Lindsay Lohan than a night in with some existential angst and the Bright Eyes back catalogue.

There’s really nothing that emotional about much of ‘Infinity On High’. There ain’t a whole lot of hardcore either – this sets out to be streamlined, stadium-friendly rock with the rough edges polished down to a fine sheen, and it succeeds admirably in these aims. At various points, it sounds like A-Ha (‘Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?’), a gleefully dumb Muse (lead-off single ‘This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race’) and – incredibly – Scissor Sisters soundtracking Rocky (‘I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Fingers’). Indeed, the wordy titles are the only real giveaways that you’re listening to Fall Out Boy.

From the opening seconds of ‘Thriller’, it’s clear that changing your preconceptions is the order of the day. How many punk bands have Jay-Z introducing their album? His much heralded cameo amounts to a total of a few seconds but hey, it’s Jay-fucking-Z. The song isn’t too shabby either – a towering, Foo Fighters-esque slice of thunderous rhythm and radio-friendly melody. Even better is what follows. ‘The Take Over, The Break’s Over’ is an unashamedly funky, unabashedly cocksure mission statement: “Don’t pretend you’ll ever forget about me”, brags frontman Patrick Stump, “because we don’t fight fair”.

He’s not kidding, either. The big guns are out for ‘Infinity On High’. In addition to Jay-Z, Pete Wentz and co have also drafted in hip-hop super-producer Babyface for (deep breath) ‘I’m Like A Lawyer With The Way

I’m Always Trying To Get You Off (Me & You)’ and ‘Thnks Fr Th Mmrs’. The most obvious choice of producer he may not be, but the gamble pays off – on ‘I’m Like A Lawyer…’ especially.

As Confucius might say, however, a bottomless pit of wonga doth not a great record make, and songs like ‘This Ain’t A Scene…’ – ostensibly a good-humoured flick of the birdie to Fall Out Boy’s least favorite three-letter word – would stand on their own with or without the lush production. The same goes for ‘Golden’, a gorgeously sparse piano ballad on which Stump croons about seeing “God cry in the reflection of my enemies”, and the brilliant ‘Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am’, which sounds like the tearful, credits-roll soundtrack to a great unmade John Hughes film. If you don’t like it, you’re either deaf, or a liar.

It’s not all plain sailing, though; ‘Hum Hallelujah’ sounds like a stale retread of ‘Sugar, We’re Going Down’ and lifts pointlessly – not to mention embarrassingly – from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Radio’ll love it of course but everyone else will just be bored. Ditto for ‘You’re Crashing, But You’re No Wave’ which, in addition to having one of the worst titles we’ve ever heard, is pure by-the-numbers stuff.

Say what you like about ‘Infinity On High’, though, it’s nothing if not infectious. Unapologetically commercial, yes, but infectious nonetheless. It draws to an ingenious close with ‘I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears…’ which lifts liberally from Scissor Sisters ‘Laura’ and augments it with a brass section and a killer chorus to make for the least likely Fall Out Boy song you’ll ever hear – and the undoubted highpoint of the album. If you leave your preconceptions at the door – along with your piss-filled missiles, thank you very much – ‘Infinity On High’ might just surprise you. It’s the sound of a band at least trying to outgrow the confines of the scene that birthed them; and largely succeeding as well. Fall Out Boy aren’t kidding themselves – they’re well aware that radio-friendly, mega-chorused stadium rock is their forte, as opposed to say, concept albums about cancer, but they do what they do better than anyone else. And they’re doing it, as is proclaimed on ‘The Take Over, The Break’s Over’, “With smiles on our faces”.

Barry Nicolson

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