'Infinity': Boundless Self-Praise and Great Pop-Punk
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Fall Out Boy is often accused of trolling the cartoony fringes of emo. The group put actors in deer antlers on its videos, allowed pictures of one band member's private parts to leak onto the Internet and generally acts cheesy and insufficiently woeful in a genre that prizes misery and authenticity -- but mostly the former -- above all.
The Chicago band's occasionally spectacular new album, "Infinity on High," is its first since 2005's "From Under the Cork Tree" pushed the group to stardom. An act's first post-fame album is usually a miserable exercise, with songs extolling groupies and complaining about room service. For Fall Out Boy, whose members acted as if they were famous long before they actually were, actual stardom doesn't represent much of a change, though "Infinity" does take their boastfulness to new heights.
They now seem less concerned with rock's transformative power than its bargaining power. The disc, which begins with a showoffy intro from Jay-Z, their slumming label head, revels in the band's newfound clout ("I'm a preacher / Sweating in the pew / For the salvation I'm bringing you"). They complain about their famous conquests and bemoan their false friends and magazine covers in ways that would seem unbecoming from anybody else.
But despite an almost terminal case of rock star bravado, perhaps no current act owes its success to its fans as much as Fall Out Boy, and these musicians manage to pay homage to those that brung them ("All the boys who the dance floor didn't love / And all the girls whose lips couldn't move fast enough"), while simultaneously offering those same ordinary folks a titillating peek behind the curtain. It's the trickiest of tightrope walks -- the regular guy as rock star ambassador -- and one they manage better than many bands otherwise twice as skilled.
"Infinity" also serves up the group's usual helping of high school cafeteria angst, mostly in a smattering of ballads that demonstrate neither the band's sincerity nor its range. But Fall Out Boy was built for the disc's numerous, now-familiar pop-punk tracks, which are almost uniformly great. It manages to seem entirely at home while helping itself to riffs from My Chemical Romance ("You're Crashing, But You're No Wave") and Panic! At the Disco ("This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"), while the album-opening "Thriller" pulls heavily from its own, much-better "Sugar, We're Goin' Down."
"Infinity" also offers a surprising dedication to mid-'90s R&B, which only partly explains the appearance of Babyface, who, it's safe to say, never before confronted anything like the frenetic, rhythm-happy "I'm Like a Lawyer With the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)." Singer Patrick Stump has a voice that's made for the almost-soulfulness that's crept into the band's otherwise gleefully traditional emo-pop. He also has a knack for sounding genuinely self-deprecating (best demonstrated on the rattling "Fame< Infamy"), which for Fall Out Boy is as necessary as air. The band's ability to make itself the butt of the joke before anyone else can is what most infuriates its critics and, occasionally, is the only thing that saves it from itself.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," "Thriller"