Sound — 5
It didn't take long for Fall Out Boy to establish their legacy - beginning as yet another 21st-century post-hardcore/pop-punk/emo band, their second album, "From Under the Cork Tree," struck seminal gold for the genre and scene. After that, Fall Out Boy were essentially unstoppable, holding the colloquial title of champions of pop-punk/emo from then on. But as the albums that followed "...Cork Tree" hinted, Fall Out Boy were urging to be more than just the titans of Warped Tour.
Several years and one hiatus later, Fall Out Boy went back into the studio to make their fifth album, "Save Rock and Roll," which touted the band's newly-configured pop-rock style unapologetically. It was expected that the majority of Fall Out Boy's dedicated fanbase would stick with the band when they got out of the pop punk/emo pond and made a big splash into the pop/arena rock pond. As for those with no Fall Out Boy rosaries, the change was jarring to say the least, and the branching out in sound treaded a thin line between coordinated exploration and aimless wandering.
Now, with their sixth album, "American Beauty/American Psycho," Fall Out Boy's mission to make catch-all contemporary rock is still underway, and once again, they're playing around with the variety of sounds they include in that amalgamation - the opening "Irresistible" and the penultimate "Immortals" are both sonically influenced by hip-hop, "Novocaine" is a gritty funk-rocker, and they have some fun with vocoders in "Favorite Record." Granted, these twists in sound aren't as jackknifing as the style shifts found in "Save Rock and Roll," but Fall Out Boy ended up concentrating that "genre clusterf--k" mentality into one song, "Uma Thurman," which juggles between sounding like a standard Fall Out Boy radio rocker, a Maroon 5 pop song, and then further bewilders by shoving in samples of the theme song from retro-era TV show "The Munsters." That's not the only case of integral sampling - "American Beauty/American Psycho" has Pete Wentz riffing on his bass opposite of guitar samples from Motley Crue's "Too Fast For Love," though this sampling concept may not only tick off classic rock fans, but it also unflatteringly highlights the paltry amount of instrument-playing in Fall Out Boy's new style. But perhaps you can chalk it up to experimenting in sound and give them a pass.
However, the overbearing problem with "American Beauty/American Psycho" is that despite the continued attempts at experimenting in their sound, things still suffer from compositional homogeneity - this not only stems from the narrow sound characteristics of arena rock, but from Fall Out Boy's now-manic obsession with writing catchy songs, which has now reached critical mass. Fall Out Boy have never had a problem writing a golden single for each of their albums, and their ability to make a damn catchy topline is near-superhuman. But while "Centuries" has already accomplished being this album's catchiest anthem, Fall Out Boy try making every song on the album the catchiest anthem on the album (even the more downbeat cuts like "The Kids Aren't Alright" and "Jet Pack Blues"). Like a Miss America Pageant, every track on the album has been primped to be the most attractive - from big synth backing and nicotine-esque beats of peppy hi-hats and claps, to infectious singalong choruses and harmonies - but when each track stands side by side sculpted in the same fashion, nothing truly stands out in the end.
Lyrics — 8
One of Pete Wentz's final lyrics (as sung by vocalist Patrick Stump) on the last album "Save Rock and Roll" were in regards to Fall Out Boy's return and as direct about it as could be: "I only plugged in to save Rock and Roll." Funny how that one line of (self-aggrandizing) culture commentary could infuriate Fall Out Boy haters more than the dozens of emo lyrics Wentz was primarily writing in the past. But with that, the culture commentary and criticism of the music industry continues in "American Beauty/American Psycho." Wentz has already given the full scoop about how "Centuries" is another dose of his (self-aggrandizing) commentary on the music industry, and how Fall Out Boy's legacy will be everlasting due to their lack of conformity (certainly, many are foaming at the mouth to debate that claim). Wentz doesn't stop there, and snipes in the general direction of other bands in the scene - alluding to past-their-prime bands hoping to get a second wind in "The Kids Aren't Alright" ("former heroes who quit too late/who just wanna fill up the trophy case again") and young, trendy bands as opportunists in "Novocaine" ("cast them out 'cause this is our culture/these new flocks are nothing but vultures").
But even with how entertaining Wentz's culture commentary is, emo lyrics will always be his bread and butter, and with his pen primarily inking those cynically-in-love lyrics again in "American Beauty/American Psycho," even the "old-school only" fans of Fall Out Boy can rejoice. There's more or less a cohesive story throughout the "battlefield of love" subject matter of the narrator and his can't-quit-you romance with a woman - going from confessions of his addiction to the mutually abusive and toxic relationship in "Irresistible" and "Uma Thurman," to reminiscing about the genuinely good times they had together in "Fourth of July" and "Favorite Record," to the devil-may-care declaration for one last fling in "Immortals" to the inevitable relapse of emotional obliteration in the finale of "Twin Skeletons (Hotel in NYC)."
Overall Impression — 5
Fall Out Boy may have left the pop-punk/emo sound they've already conquered in search of something bigger, but in the pond of arena rock, the general sound being reached for is just as narrow, if not more so. In light of this, their hopeful solution to breaking that mold of arena rock is to summon the unexpected. But despite the number of sonic curveballs they throw, it doesn't remedy the "anthemitis" that "American Beauty/American Psycho" contains. The real variance that was needed on the album were some real gear-changes (some real ballads, maybe even a couple raw and brooding rock songs), because when every song on the album is trying to be a stadium-rousing anthem, the only result that's bound to come of it is the music equivalent of a caffeine crash. The saving grace for the album is the lyrical content, which is thankfully a level above the music in terms of feeling genuinely articulate. Had the lyrics been of similar empty rhetoric as the compositions, though, and "American Beauty/American Psycho" would have been a total bust.