Fall Out Boy, American Beauty / American Psycho

Save Rock and Roll, the fifth album from Fall Out Boy, and coincidentally their triumphant return to music after nearly three years, was one of the best records of 2013. After a failed attempt by lead singer Patrick Stump to make it as a solo artist, and the rest of the band jumping headlong into side projects, the band reunited and quietly recorded easily one of their best and most ambitious records to date. While praise reigned for the record, a large enough group of fans were vocal that the band had completely removed themselves from the straight punk days of Take This To Your Grave, so Pax AM Days was born. Released shortly after the full run of tour dates for the record, the short record saw the band partner with songwriter Ryan Adams label and return to the punk they grew out of, and it was well received. Now, less than two years after the landmark return, the four lost boys return with a new album. The real question with a release this quick after such a huge album, could they do it again? Could they cash in quickly a second time with more pop/rock anthems? This is the setup for American Beauty/American Psycho.

Fuel to the fire started with the first College Football National Championship, seemingly soundtracked continuously by the early first single from AB/AP, “Centuries”. The track easily mimics the large-scale arena style rock that was introduced on SR&R. So maybe right from the start, it could have been a repeat. Quickly releasing singles as the year ended, I really wanted to hear the singles in context of the whole record. Right from the start, we’re treated to the horn-laden and instantly catchy classic “Irresistible”, with more classic lyricism from the band: “I love the way you hurt me / It’s irresistible” coupled with “Too many war wounds, and not enough wars”. So much of what made SR&R great was the continuous use of main writer Pete Wentz’ creativity in lyrical content, and while it was lessened during that record, it’s still here, it’s just catchier than we’ve ever heard. The title track is another perfect example: “I think I fell in love again / Maybe I just took too much cough medicine / I’m the best worst thing that hasn’t happened to you yet / The best worst thing”. It’s classic Fall Out Boy, just with the pop glitz thrown over it more than ever before.

“The Kids Aren’t Alright” is in the same vein of the title track from SR&R, a calm 80’s style ballad featuring some of Stump’s best vocal work he’s ever recorded. The lyrics are on point as well, channeling teenage angst, coupled with empowerment: “I’m not passive but aggressive / Take note, it’s not impressive / Empty your sadness / Like you’re dumping your purse / On my bedroom floor / We put your curse in reverse / And it’s our time now if you want to to be / More the war like the carnival bears set free.” It’s moments like this one where Fall Out Boy shines more than ever before. But we’re not done yet. The soul and anger-fueled “Uma Thurman” follows, with a less-than subtle ode to the heavily sampled Munsters theme before Stump’s vocals fly in, reminding listeners of days of yesteryear, more specifically something like “W.A.M.S.” from Fall Out Boy’s fourth record Folie A Deux.Another love ballad, “Jet Pack Blues” kicks in smoothly as the previous track ends, and it’s more lyrical conundrums that get stuck in your head constantly: “She’s in a long black coat tonight / Waiting for me in the downpour outside / She’s singing “Baby come home” in a melody of tears / While the rhythm of the rain keeps time”.

“Novocaine” is AB/AP’s “The Phoenix”, easily the most aggressive track on the set, and reminds most of the experimental moments on Folie A Deux. It’s proof (if you haven’t figured it out yet) that AB/AP is a different beast than SR&R was. The mission of this album is seemingly to keep the momentum going from what was such a major return to popularity just a short two years ago. In fact, “Novocaine” is the only track on AB/AP that required multiple rewinds immediately after its first listen. “Fourth of July” another pulsing cut that requires more listens to fully appreciate, but that’s where the record ends for me. After listening multiple times to the final trio of songs, it’s somewhat clear that AB/AP is a few songs short of a repeat hit full-length. It almost sounds like the first 8 tracks were left over from the (from what we’ve heard) extensive SR&R sessions, and when the band was asked why they were releasing another record so quickly, they said they hadn’t expected to jump back in right away.

To those of us who know how the industry works, it’s likely the band had written at least 30–40 cuts for SR&R, and found what worked together for a solid rock-comeback volume. This volume however, features the more pop-friendly cuts. It almost screams, forget what we accomplished, this is who we are now. Like it or not, this is the new Fall Out Boy. I doubt we’ll ever hear another classic like “Thks Fr Th Mmrs” or “Sugar, We’re Going Down”, but if we can keep getting songs like the first eight on this record, most people will keep buying. Overall, it’s still the band most grew up loving, with a few more drum machines, synths, and even poppier melodies than before. I’ll say, at least the lyrical content is still up to what they were known for. Hopefully we’ll have some more time to digest this pill before the next.

Justin Mabee