Fall Out Boy: An Evolution

gives her verdict on latest album American Beauty/American Psycho, genre conversion and the changing dynamics of the rock industry

American Beauty/American Psycho is a concept album based upon isolation and American cultural ignorance. The tackling of such a complex issue by the Illnois rock quartet shakes up all notions of what you would expect from a deeply theatrical rock album. Fall Out Boy’s latest release is full of surprising, yet compelling musical twists and turns, from majestic trumpet introductions in latest release ‘Irresistible’ to punchy, stuttering and frantic melodies in lead single, ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’.

It’s difficult to place Fall Out Boy’s sixth studio album into a category or genre. The first single, ‘Centuries’, is a ballsy and impassioned rock number, with an infectious opening melody sampled from Suzanne Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’. In stark contrast to their incorporation of Vega’s folk melody, mid-album tribute to the actress, ‘Uma Thurman’ is much more danceable pop track and errs on the edge of Beach Boys-esque pop. Be it slightly more disjointed than its predecessor, Save Rock and Roll, the unconventional follow up album is evolutionary in that it spans several genres, perhaps reflecting the changing nature of the rock industry.

“Let’s face it, the Rock World is still pretending it’s in the Stone Ages,” bassist Pete Wentz remarks in an interview with Shazam after the release of American Beauty/American Psycho. Perhaps this indicates an explanation for the band’s dramatic change in direction, much more so than where the band draw their roots from.

Looking back to its blossoming years, the Chicago rock quartet hit the music industry by storm. With Patrick Stump’s mesmerising vocal range and de-facto frontman Pete Wentz’s addictive stage personality, the band were dubbed Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards in 2006 and were set to become a breath of fresh air in the stagnating punk industry. For many students Under the Cork Tree and Infinity on High were staple albums growing up. The albums boasted examples of 00’s pop-punk at its finest – who hasn’t caught themselves singing along to classics ‘Sugar We’re Going Down’ or ‘Dance Dance’?

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The band’s sixth album, American Beauty/American Psycho

After the release of an underwhelming and little known fourth album, Folie à Deux, a four year hiatus was on the cards for the American rockers to rethink the dynamics of the band. A torrent of failed solo careers later, the band came back into force with new concept album and a string of tour dates.

The release of their returning album Save Rock and Roll in 2013 was eagerly anticipated. Fans questioned whether they would be able to mirror their previous success. Despite such anxiety, the punchy synths of singles ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark’ and ‘The Phoenix’ captivated and accentuated Stump’s impressive vocals even more than before. The album marked the band’s first transition into a new genre and foreshadowed their use of sampling in American Beauty/American Psycho by collaborating with a host of different artists. Courtney Love, rap artist Big Sean and Sir Elton John each added an individual and unique dynamic to the album which saw the band transgress the conventional boundaries of the rock genre.

Their newest release, American Beauty/American Psycho dares to go much further. Stump manipulates Wentz’s thought-provoking lyrics around fuzzy riffs, mixing up “woahs” and syncopated melodies which become delightfully ferocious and unpredictable. This is most evident in single ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ where chorus vocals chant, “You, me, us, them we’re just resurrection men,” within a backdrop of Stump’s somewhat psychotically fiery vocals, tremendously complimenting the duality of the title of the album.

Fall Out Boy are not alone in changing their music direction. Their transition is mirrored by a surge in genre conversions across traditionally mainstream bands within the rock industry.

The main continuity across the band’s near fifteen year career is certainly their theatrical nature. Among the videos released alongside the new album, thugs fighting against a young elegant ballerina and the band dressed as gladiators in an Ancient Greek Colosseum are but a few golden examples of why the band create both visual as well as audio masterpieces. These go hand in hand with the ‘Young Blood Chronicles’, the series of dramatic music videos which went alongside Save Rock and Roll.

Fall Out Boy are not alone in changing their music direction. Their transition is mirrored by a surge in genre conversions across traditionally mainstream bands within the rock industry. Notable examples include Bring Me The Horizon’s new single ‘Drown’, which reinvents the head-banging hardcore metal band with a much more radio-friendly slow-paced and cathartic single. As another example, Gerard Way’s complete transformation from theatrical alternative-rock ensemble My Chemical Romance, sees him emerge with a glam-rock and brit-pop influenced solo album Hesitant Alien. The status quo of what we would define as rock music is rapidly changing. Enter Shikari have been heralded as a new era in rock, their sound being characterised by electronic synths and rap vocals. It seems that for many, rock ballads and guitar solos have become redundant as the industry screams for something more dynamic and versatile.

In an interview with Kerrang! magazine, Fall Out Boy commented on the release of their new album by stating: “Rock has to change…or it will die.” Whether this is in a bid to win over popular music stations and captivate new audiences or simply because of their creative pursuits is another debate. The band however seems correct in highlighting a need for change in the industry.

Overall the album illustrates how Fall Out Boy are able to prove themselves as a band that can survive not only a four year hiatus, but go beyond their original success by adapting to a new era of demand from the rock industry. Would we still be able to call them pop-punk band? Probably not. By taking such a risk are they alienating a large part of their original fanbase? Possibly. Yet the band still play important roles in heavy music festivals such as Download and are embraced in appearances amongst Calvin Harris at the more diverse Isle of Wight Festival. One thing’s for certain – Fall Out Boy have a penchant with great music, whichever genre they may find themselves in.

Look out for Fall Out Boy during their UK tour this Autumn

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