Sound — 5
"Oh, how the mighty fall."
Say what you will about Chicago's Fall Out Boy and their dramatic transformation in the 2010s, few pop-punk acts found the same footing after the "emo crash" of the mid-2000s. Being a notable exception, 2007's Infinity On High serves as a possible example of early planning for the future. While not entirely alienating fans still in love with hits like "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Grand Theft Autumn (Where Is Your Boy)," Infinity subtly departs from many rules-of-thumb for pop-punk at the time. Singer Patrick Stump became more grandiose and soulful, a greater portion of the record is spent in melancholic tempo, and though songwriter Pete Wentz remains in his quirky comfort zone there are very specific changes that open the door to future releases without insulting fans.
Though living up to their name producing an abundance of songs essentially about failed relationships (sexually-charged "Thnks fr th Mmrs," disenchanted "Hum Hallelujah," and the dreamscape "I'm Like a Lawyer..."), Wentz pairs Stump's greater soul with his own increased sense of urgency in lyrics. Suicide and drug abuse, two recurring motifs of platinum From Under the Cork Tree, takes a backseat this time around, leaving room to in detail explore the "adult world" at a time when the most significant demographic for Fall Out Boy (and emo-punk in general) was teenaged girls. This limit aside, the lyrical expansion really compliments heavier-yet-simpler guitar work, and somewhat offsets the whole "emo" thing.
Lyrics — 6
For subject matter, a most striking evolution is exemplified in the ridiculously overplayed single "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race." Scarce does the band's interest in politics seem at any point in their career before Infinity, and "Scene" stands out as perhaps the most obvious example (at the very least, the most public example). Self-conscious about their own fame as ever ("We were a cover story...we are not making an acceptance speech...our hearts bleed for the die-hards," etc), rather than constrain the titular Fall Out Boy's point of view to a struggling self-image as in the case of previous releases, the band makes a greater effort explaining the world of the listener as well. "Scene" gazes around in awe at the music industry's "arms race" for the ears of the youth, "You're Crashing, But You're No Wave" victimizes those caught by the long arm of the law, and "The Takeover, The Break's Over" hints at the media machine of social suggestion.
However lyrically bold this album proves, there are certain setbacks and areas of redundancy that create something of a disconnect between the writer and the listener. Angst over dealing with fame is not exactly on the minds of every impressionable teenager, even with the explosion of social media at the time of the album's release putting greater pressure on perfection amongst similarly anxious peers. A cut from the previous album, "I've Got a Dark Alley..." has essentially the same message as Infinity's Act 1 closer "Golden," yet the latter, while a pretty little song, feels slightly out of touch in comparison. Be that as it may there are still some great moments.
While topical expansion is well-done and appreciated on Infinity, musicality seems to have suffered this time around. Every instrument from drums to guitar is noticeably dumbed-down. Gone are the charming riffs from previous LPs ("Of All The Gin Joints...," "A Little Less Sixteen Candles...,"), replaced by power chord progressions aplenty. One or two attempts are made on "Scene" and "Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?," but much of the album feels more Billy Joel than blink-182. Focus is entirely on complimenting singer Stump's increasing vocal prowess. There are perhaps two guitar solos, which feel entirely out of place once it is realized that they are exceptions rather than regulars.
On the whole, Infinity On High is very mellow compared to other releases. Whether this comes in the form of ballad "Golden" or somber closer "I've Got All This Ringing...," Fall Out Boy attempts to shed their pop-punk roots in favor of a more anthemic feel (think Van Halen's beefy "Van Hagar" transformation). While this is accomplished with subtlety, the resulting sound is rather dull to any looking forward to enjoying the same heart-stopping moments found on Cork Tree or Take This To Your Grave. It is the belief of this writer that Infinity's transformation of the band's sonic preferences was in preparation for an eventual genre dump, which was finally realized years later...and will be further elaborated upon at another time.
Overall Impression — 6
Ten years on, it is difficult to name Infinity as the point at which Fall Out Boy died to pop-punk (and even to emo-punk) and became a more standard, single-based, mainstream act. Perhaps this was always their intention, and though this isn't a particularly bad album it is easy to marginalize as a cash-in on the brief success of emo before merging with pop radio: Wentz claims Lil Wayne as influential to the writing of the album, Babyface produced a couple cuts from the album, and even the video to "Scene" pokes fun at Fall Out Boy's close relationship with hip-hop and R&B honchos...yet, years later, this crisp and clean pop radio image is exactly what Fall Out Boy has adapted.
If Sell Out Boy was not the band fans expected to come out of Infinity, they may have to listen again. After all, why is Jay-Z here?