How does a rock band stay relevant in a musical marketplace defined by ever-increasing fragmentation and ever-slipping sales? For the four guys in Fall Out Boy, the strategy for remaining on the cultural radar involves tossing in a little bit of almost everything, stridently stirring pop, punk, rock, emo, hip-hop and dance influences into a syrupy, musically syncretistic stew.
On any given track from American Beauty/American Psycho, you might find a repurposed Suzanne Vega chant, a Mötley Crüe mash-up, a bit of The Munsters’ theme song, soaring Adam Levine-like melodies, rapped wordplay or straight-up punk-rock agro-tude. Rolling Stone reviewer Caryn Ganz writes, “Anything officially goes for Fall Out Boy on their sixth album, the group’s biggest, broadest, most unabashed pop smorgasbord yet. … When everything connects—like on the single ‘Centuries’—FOB are a glorious nexus of Seventies glitter rock, Eighties radio pop, Nineties R&B and Aughts electro stomp.”
And when it comes to the band’s lyrics, all over the map applies as well as these outsized boys fall face-first into Pandora’s paradox of beauty and psychosis.
Looking back on a failed romance, “Fourth of July” earnestly emotes regret: “I wish I’d known how much you loved me/I wish I cared enough to know.” “Immortals” pledges, “I’ll be the watcher of the eternal flame/I’ll be the guard dog of all your fever dreams.” The song also says of faith, “Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith/Is when it’s tested again and again every day.” “Favorite Record” philosophizes, “And you can get what you want, but it’s never enough.” Meanwhile, “Irresistible” informs us that “the truth catches up with us eventually.” “Uma Thurman” (which elsewhere references that actress’s dancing in Pulp Fiction) includes this matrimonial-sounding vow: “Oh, oh, keep you like an oath/May nothing but death do us part,” followed by lines that encourage someone to live fully right up to the moment of death (“You’ll find your way/And may death find you alive”). “Jet Pack Blues” introspects, “Did you ever love her? Do you know?/Or did you never want to be alone?”
“The Kids Aren’t Alright” battles through cynicism and disillusionment to affirm a significant friendship in an imperfect life (“And in the end/I’d do it all again/I think you’re my best friend/Don’t you know that the kids aren’t al—, kids aren’t alright”). The song also pledges allegiance to that friendship no matter what difficulties may arise (“And I’ll be yours/When it rains, it pours”).
” Centuries” offers muddy meditations on the tension between the desire to dream big and to leave a legacy contrasted with the harsh reality that our dreams are often unrealized and done in by death. “Novocaine” has self-aware (if mostly grim) lyrics about the temptation to numb ourselves to pain, then perhaps expresses an honest fear of being too emotionally vulnerable (“I’m still afraid the battle’s gonna swallow me whole/I feel like a photo that’s been overexposed”).
“Irresistible” reportedly references the infamously volatile coupling of Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, whom he murdered. Frontman Patrick Stump sings, “And I love the way you hurt me/It’s irresistible.”
The title track includes these lines: “I wish I dreamt in the shape of your mouth/But it’s your thread count that I really care about/Stay up ’til the lights go out/ … Us, we were pity sex/Nothing more, nothing less.” “Uma Thurman” recalls a torrid summer tryst (“And I can’t get you out of my head/The stench, the stench of summer sex/And CK Eternity, oh, h— yes”). “Jet Pack Blues” begs, “Fight off the light tonight and just stay with me/Honey, don’t you leave.” On “Fourth of July,” we hear, “I’ll be as honest as you let me/I miss your early morning company.” And “Twin Skeletons (Hotel in NYC)” uses someone sexually to numb life’s hurts (“I just need enough of you to dull the pain/Just to get me through the night”).
“American Beauty/American Psycho” blasts us with, “You take the full, full truth, then you pour some out/And you can kill me, kill me or let God sort ’em out.” Elsewhere on that track, Stump suggests, “Maybe I just took too much cough medicine,” and says grimly, “Altar boys, altar boys/We’re the thing that love destroys.” Other oblique-but-sarcastic allusions to Christian jargon turn up on “The Kids Aren’t Alright” (“Fall to your knees, bring on the rapture/Blessed be the boys time can’t capture”), “Uma Thurman” (“The blood, the blood, the blood of the lamb/It’s worth two lions, but here I am”) and “Fourth of July” (“You are the drought/And I’m the holy water you’ve been without”).
“Novocaine” flirts with violent images and metaphors (“This is a black, black ski mask song/So put all of your anger on/In the truly gruesome do we trust/I will always land on you like a sucker punch”) and succumbs to feeling sedated in a romance run dry (“Because they took our love, and they filled it up/Filled it up with Novocaine, and now I’m just numb/ … I don’t feel a thing for you”).
Fall Out Boy albums have always been interpretive exercises in sifting lyrical wheat from chaff, and this one is no different in that respect. Chief lyricist and bass player Pete Wentz can deliver earnest, heartfelt observations about life’s inevitable hurts one moment, and follow them up with scathing, despairing irreverence and sarcasm the next.
In Wentz’s world, the distance between beauty and psychosis is never very great, which is why his yearning for love so often devolves into something more degraded and debased. Or, as he puts it on the title track, “I’m the best worst thing that hasn’t happened to you yet.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.