Three years ago, the return of scene kings Fall Out Boy was a really, really big deal. During their hiatus, our community did a bit of a double-take, suddenly realizing that the initially mixed response to the band’s last album, Folie à Deux, was unprecedented as it represented one last leap at pop-centric stardom, while remaining everyone’s favorite underdogs. It also happened to arguably be their strongest work to date.
But people change over time, as do their preferences and image. This was made abundantly clear when their first single back, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” dominated Top 40 radio with a music video that featured rapper 2 Chainz literally torching the memories, surrounding Fall Out Boy’s pop-punk debut 10 years previous, Take This to Your Grave. The band’s first album in five years, Save Rock and Roll, was a critical and commercial success, although fans were much more divided on the bands new direction as the album featured a slew of synth-heavy, radio-ready hits riddled with unconventional guests (including Big Sean and Courtney Love).
Ultimately, this is the key to American Beauty/American Psycho’s success. Less than two years after SRAR, the band dropped several singles out of the blue and recorded an album in less than a month without much notice or public recognition. While a song like “Centuries” sounds atypical in the wake of SRAR, much of the rest of AB/AP contains more bite than the rest of the band’s catalog put together, and is essentially a step-up from its predecessor in almost every way. Gone is the filler, guest spots, and lackluster lyrics – in their place, 11 electronic-influenced rock songs that prove to be a change of pace for the band, their fans, and mainstream radio.
Aside from the similarities between singles “Centuries” and “Immortals,” AB/AP is a mixed bag that’s anything but boring. “Irresistible” is likely the band’s weakest opener, but it sets the mood for what’s to come. The title track is as divisive as its title, taking a handful of sonic risks but ultimately becoming an eccentric, high-energy sing-along and a bold pick for the track two spot. The album is surprisingly danceable; for proof, look no further than “Uma Thurman.” I won’t ruin the surprise, but this surf-rock tribute to Quentin Tarantino is quite possibly the album’s biggest grin-inducing moment, for fans both old and new.
Elsewhere, the album is much more emotional; on slow-jam/ballad “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” frontman Patrick Stump sings of “Former heroes who quit too late/Who just wanna fill up the trophy case again.” As always, Stump is a vocal powerhouse, leaps and bounds ahead of his “Sugar, We’re Going Down” days and proving to be one of the best vocalists on mainstream radio right now. This is perhaps most notable throughout tracks “Jet Pack Blues” and “Fourth of July,” which include instrumental punches that hit just as hard as Stump’s voice (delivering classic lines like “You and I were fireworks that went off too soon”). Everything that lacked on SRAR is put front and center here; the drums are booming, guitars and bass rip-roaring, and on top of it all, the production is nothing short of stellar. The band has never sounded more tightly knit.
In the end, it’s AB/AP’s ability to be unforgettable that truly launches it into the stratosphere. Say what you will about the band’s direction; none of these songs act as filler in the same vein as “Where Did the Party Go?,” let alone a handful of tracks from the band’s early catalog. AB/AP feels the best compromise between two ideals originally wrestled with throughout Infinity on High and Folie à Deux: every single song is “pop” enough to be played on Top 40, but also contains enough edge to reel in old fans (or, at least the ones who aren’t still stuck cradling their Taking Back Sunday vinyl). This loyalty to both themselves and the fans is best represented by the album’s closer, “Twin Skeletons (Hotel in NYC).” The song sounds like a love letter to the die-hards, sinister in tone with some absolutely undeniable harmonies and ultimately containing more “punk” elements than anything the band has written since 2007. If you give one song from the album a shot, make it this one.
And so it seems Fall Out Boy’s return is important once more. Where Save Rock and Roll rebranded a band and marketed them more towards the mainstream than ever, American Beauty/American Psycho solidifies the band’s place amongst their pop contemporaries as one of the most bold and original success stories in recent memory. They always said believers never die; score one for the underdogs.