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Review: Fall Out Boy Overreach on ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’

6
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Label: Island/DCD2

Ten years ago, Fall Out Boy released From Under the Cork Tree, their first foray into the mainstream. It was the same year fellow pop-punk prodigies Paramore made their appearance on the scene, the same time New Jersey mall goths My Chemical Romance released Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. A decade later and these three bands, in various incarnations, were able to sustain an audience: MCR evolving into the Britpop brilliance of Gerard Way’s 2014 solo album and Paramore’s soulful, self-titled stampede of a record in 2013.

Unlike those acts, FOB’s development was a bit more tumultuous, yet surprisingly consistent. They moved from the hair-straightening, Hot Topic-fueled “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” days to the cultural criticism of “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” eventually going on hiatus and returning in 2013 under new lofty aspirations. They were determined to Save Rock and Roll.

That album, with its left-field comeback single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)” (featuring fellow Chicago resident a pre-household-name 2 Chainz in the video), illustrated the band’s new direction. They wanted to ensure guitar music a place in Top 40 airplay, and they knew the only way to do it would be to marry the most popular genres of the day with their characteristic sound: de facto frontman Patrick Stump’s falsetto, Pete Wentz’s undervalued bass lines.

It was marginally successful, but would set the tone for their sixth studio album, American Beauty/American Psycho, a conceptual non-concept album, one Wentz told Billboard is dedicated to the last “100 years of popular culture,” however kaleidoscopic that might entail. The formula, it seemed, matured from pop-punk’s reductive three-chord nature into something much more complicated.

First single “Centuries” sounds more like Maroon 5’s “Animals” than anything else they’ve done before (the song’s place as ESPN’s unofficial college football anthem doesn’t help its case). The tune samples both Mötley Crüe’s “Too Fast for Love” and the iconic “do do do” from Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” Later came “Irresistible,” the album’s ode to Sid and Nancy, a masochistic anthem that plays to the boys’ old Warped Tour fan base, and the days when their biggest concern was getting the girl. At moments, it feels like a track relegated to a Twilight soundtrack B-side, with Stump insisting on oversinging, extending his once-brief moments of complete control. It’s a perfect sketch of the album: ambitious, even admirable, yet rarely whole. Sometimes too much is just too much.

The best (and most confusing) moment is found on “Uma Thurman,” with an intro that samples the Munsters theme song before Stump namechecks Kylie Minogue’s 2001 hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” The song somehow works, saving the record from its outlandish vision. It’s more ideation than practice, which is why the too-cluttered American Beauty/American Psycho won’t be this band’s American Idiot.