After The Breakout: Fall Out Boy’s Infinity On High
David Jackson
3/9/2007 6:59:36 PM

Fall Out Boy has conquered the world. Now what? The band went from Chicago indie favorite to national sensation with the release (and really excellent promotion) of their second album, From Under The Cork Tree [Island Def Jam], and achieved two omnipresent singles, “Sugar, We're Going Down” and “Dance, Dance” virtually at the same time. Fall Out Boy's extraordinarily quick transformation into the new “in” band has, predictably, caused heated debate among their newly expanded following. Many older fans worried that FOB's signing to a major label was a sure indication that they had sold out, and heaped abuse on the new fans that had jumped on board after hearing the excruciatingly overplayed singles. So, almost two years after Cork Tree, Fall Out Boy has returned with Infinity On High [Island Def Jam], their third LP and first record written as global superstars. Have they sold out? Has success corrupted their indie roots? Have they left their old following behind to chase a bigger demographic?

Not exactly. Infinity isn't bad as pop-rock goes. The band has moments to shine, and takes them: The dual choruses of “The Take Over, The Break's Over”, for instance, would fit well with the better moments of their earlier catalog, with that trademark sneer in the vocals, an ear-candy tune, and clever lyrics about frustrations both sexual and otherwise. This is territory Fall Out Boy knows well, and they tread it with familiarity. There are little additions and changes here and there, helping the songs stand out a bit more from the pack, such as experimenting with choral backing and stripped down sounds to provide contrast (and if the success of Panic! At The Disco's “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” is any indication, contrast is in now). It shows quite prominently on the debut single, “This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race”, but surprisingly enough this experimentation makes its mark all over the album, and it's mostly a change for the better. And even with these changes, big portions of this album will sound right to those fans that have been with the band since way back, and take pride in having seen them playing tiny clubs before anyone knew or cared who they were.

Sense a “but” coming on? Here it is: This album has an attitude problem. Fall Out Boy are well known for their arrogance in interviews and publicity in general. Before, that wasn't a problem for the casual listener – you can listen to From Under The Cork Tree without hearing the band's ridiculous self-obsession. On Infinity On High, though, some of it finally seems to have seeped through into the songwriting process. Even though only a few of the songs are definitely, conclusively about the band's rise to stardom, the whole thing feels vaguely like a diary of Fall Out Boy's last two years. They mention magazines and fame just a little too much. They use the word “we” too smugly, and too many times. The whole self-referential songwriting thing gets very old, very fast. Also (and this is a fear more than a criticism) it's something conventionally associated with hip-hop.

You can't accuse Fall Out Boy of forgetting about their origins – there's good rock material on this record, plenty of it. But is this the right way to show appreciation to the people that got them where they are? Are the FOB loyal really the type who want to hear this at the beginning of the album?

“Yeah. What you critics said would never happen. We dedicate this album to anybody, people said couldn't make it. To the fans that held us down 'til everyone came around. Welcome... it's here.”

More to the point, do they really want to hear that shout out coming, not from Fall Out Boy singer Partick Stump, but from hip-hop superstar Jay-Z? It's confusing that they've taken this route, but no doubt they have their reasons. Perhaps, as the cynics say, label pressure to make a more marketable record. Maybe their success emboldened them, giving them courage for some wild sound experiments. Or it could even be, as wryly suggested by the self-mocking video for “This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race”, that the band cares about keeping its new fans – and that to hold mainstream interest in a hip-hop-dominated culture, you must adopt a bit of a hip-hop braggadocio yourself. More likely, knowing Fall Out Boy, it's all a big joke. Still, you have to wonder, just as you had to wonder after Cork Tree: What could possibly be next?


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