This review was written in 2007 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
The only way to open this review is to be honest about my intentions. Everyone knows I’m a fan of this band. My website has followed their career closely over the last few years and I have a personal relationship with some of the band members. It’s not often you hear a reviewer admit their bias, but I am doing just that. I’m a fan of the band, always have been, and probably always will. The reason I’m doing this is because I’ve come to the conclusion that there will be very few reviews (public or personal) on this album that, if the reviewer is honest with themselves, are completely objective. It seems everyone has a preconceived notion on how they feel about this band. The truth is — it’s their third (official) full-length, by this time you know if you like what they do or not. If you’re already a hater: don’t try and fool anyone into thinking you really thought, “you just might like this one” – because you won’t.
My reasoning for writing this review falls into three categories:
- I’m writing this for those on the fence. The fans that maybe heard a few new songs and aren’t sure if they should pony up the cash and pick up the album.
- I’m writing this so my thoughts on the disc can be put in one place. I’m lazy by nature and posting a link to my feelings on the album is going to save me a lot of time and energy over the next few months.
- I’m writing this for the fans. The ones who, like me, have watched the band grow from nothing to being one of the biggest bands on the planet. I’m writing this because it’s far too easy for a reviewer from one of the “big name” publications to toss out a paragraph and collect their paycheck. What really matters is what the fans think, and if need be, I’ll wear that “fan-boy” crown without hesitation.
So let’s waste no more words. Is the album worth buying? Yes. Is the album better than From Under the Cork Tree? Yes.
Here’s my take: The band released Take This To Your Grave at a time, and via a way, that everyone that heard it loved what they were doing and it resonated within a core group. I honestly believe that if the band would have released either of their two follow-up albums in the place of Take This To Your Grave – people would have the same “connection” with those albums instead. I’m not so sure that it’s the album and the specific songs that everyone relates to and holds with such nostalgia, as it is the memory of “what it was like before.” With that said, I’m not going to compare this to “everyone’s favorite.”
We should, by now, be familiar with the “Fall Out Boy formula” – and the question is whether or not they’re able to pull it off again, and to what level of success. The honest answer is that the songs that hit right, are really good. The songs that miss, really miss. This creates an interesting dichotomy that takes some getting used to.
Before we dive into the songs, I want to get some of the mechanics out of the way. Patrick’s vocals are fucking phenomenal. The man is a machine. Not only this, but his ear for melody and song structure is, without a doubt, a thing of envy. He is the piece that makes this band what it is and I cannot express enough my admiration and utmost respect for this man’s talent. The production is also top notch. Neal Avron, in my opinion, has steadily gotten better at his craft over the years. The tones sound crisp, the drums hit, and the songs are concise. The lyrics are decent. They’re not at the same level I think the band’s capable and there are some real “eh” moments; however, as a whole I think they fit with the album’s theme, the band’s vision, and it proves that the band can make a solid album without having to rely on “being too clever.”
So what’s it sound like? Well, it’s still, for lack of a better term: pop-punk. There’s no real way to get around genre-defining this band, and this sound. It’s what it is – and you can either take it for what it is, enjoy it, or reject it outright. While some may get caught up on “well, you won’t be listening to this in 15” years or “this is run of the mill pop” — I can only counter with my personal opinion. First, when I’m listening to Fall Out Boy, I’m not really trying to discover music I’ll be listening to in 15 years. I’m well aware that it’s dated, and I’m well aware that it’s not a sound that one would classically describe as “timeless.” But then, that’s something I knew when I first pushed “play” on my CD player. I believe there is a time and place for all varieties of music and that each listener who is willing can pick and choose between genres to find a unique musical thumbprint that describes only them will be better off in the long run anyway. Addressing the second common detraction, there’s really no response. Of course this is pop. The idea of it being “run of the mill” is, honestly, all personal preference. Some can listen to 30 different pop-punk bands and tell you the differences between all of them. This same listener may be perplexed and unable to do the same for a different genre.
I’m not sure if you could set the bar, or expectations, any higher than if you have Jay-Z open up your album. I mean, seriously. “Thriller” opens the record with soaring vocal harmonies and very distinct drumming. “The Take Over..” reminds me, musically, of tracks off of the latest album from The Matches (yes, this is a clue that all you reading this should go check out this band).
The single, “Arms Race..” has been beaten to death with analysis. You either like it or you don’t (I, personally, like it). It’s not particularly denotative of the entire album, but it does allow the listener to see that the band’s not afraid to take a few chances. There are much more “safe” first singles on the disc that the band could have released. “I’m Like a Lawyer..” is more pop than punk, more focus on the vocals than the music. While the music may be “simple” the vocals are anything but. “Hum Hallelujah” caps off a blistering 5 track opening spurt. However, this is now where the album falters.
I have very little praise for “Golden” – it seems like a forced ballad that comes across as overtly cheesy. If anything, it showcases Patrick’s range with remarkable accuracy; however, the lyrics and overbearing instrumentation leaves something to be desired. It works, for me, only as a segue into the sure to be fan-favorite “Thnks fr th Mmrs.” Quite possibly the best track on the album, and one of the better tracks Fall Out Boy’s ever written. Quick delivery, infectiously catchy, and it’s very obvious to me that this is where the band shines.
The “middle” of the album consists of a collection of solid tracks that I seem to gloss over as I prepare for the album’s closers. These are the tracks that upon first listen (a few weeks ago) I never really gave much thought about. Now, after letting the album set, I’ve been able to come back to these and find new favorites. This seems to be a trend for me with FOB releases, and one of the main reasons I sat 3/4 of the way done with this review for such a long time. It seems that when I get to the point that I’ve “overplayed” my favorite tracks the other songs take on a whole new life.
The album closes as strong as it began. “Fame < Infamy” leads perfectly into (my personal favorite) “You’re Crashing But You’re No Wave,” which is the kind of song I’ve been waiting for the band to write their entire careers. While the entire album may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I honestly think this song can bridge a small gap. It’s gotta be damn hard not to get this one stuck in your head.
The album’s biggest flaw is in it’s own, unavoidable, hype. There are no ears that the songs will meet that will be connected to a brain that doesn’t have “some” idea of what they think about the band and CD before the first notes are played. While this may have a caustic outcome on some, for others it’s par for course. My initial response, after my first listen, was “it’s Fall Out Boy, it’s what I expected.” Now, this may not hold true for many, and I understand and respect the countless differing opinions that will undoubtedly rear their heads. I just hope some, if not all, listeners shake off the stigma currently associated with being a “Fall Out Boy fan.” Plus, it may be that liking this band has become just taboo enough that the select few of us that never turned our backs can now be seen as “edgy” and “hip.”
(That last sentence is tongue in cheek, you don’t need to comment … I’m being “ironical.”)
It comes down to this: Give the album an honest listen. You’re going to know quite quickly if it’s for you or not. The single (“Arms Race”) is catchy as herpes, but shouldn’t be considered indicative of the entire release. Furthermore, while by no means a “perfect” album — the flaws of the disc are made most apparent by the intense microscopic scrutiny the band will be put under. It’s flawed, sure, but the band’s continual pushing of their proverbial musical envelope showcases their undying desire to create music – and that’s definitely laudable. While the band may someday create that obligatory “too artsy” album, in the meantime they seem content with improving the sound they’ve made so very much their own.
I can’t help but think about the album as a “moment in time” – each listen causing a tapping of toes and a return to that feeling of being young and playing a catchy song as loud as possible. While the feeling fades after the record stops … I can’t help but smile as I realize that this feeling is only a repeat button away.