Sound — 6
Fall Out Boy was one of a few bands (the others including Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, and The All-American Rejects) that exploded in 2004 and 2005 across the iPods of teens the world over with "From Under The Cork Tree". Fusing pop-punk with some of their softer brand of hardcore (the band's members having originated from the hardcore scene), the album took off with lead singles "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Dance, Dance". There was also an incident involving songwriter/bassist Pete Wentz exposing himself on the Internet, but there isn't a single, solitary chance on earth that the band's publicity was in any way affected by it. When not occupied with his camera phone, Wentz pens achy breaky heart anthems filled to the brim with tongue-in-cheek, irony, and the occasional darker romantic theme. Giving lyrics voice is singer/guitarist Patrick Stump, who took a backseat on "Cork Tree" to the word play, along with guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley. With an exploding reputation, the band sought R&B's Babyface to take up some of the production work, leaving most of it to Fall Out Boy regular Neal Avron. The band aimed to ride the wave of "Cork Tree"'s massive success with 2007's "Infinity On High". Ride the wave, it does. Apart from the bizarre Jay-Z appearance and the almost-pretentiously titled "Thriller", Fall Out Boy opens with about the same formula as last time. Though the skeletal outline is where the similarities between "Thriller" and the opener of "Cork Tree" end, there's an odd feeling from the outset that the intention to utilize the previous record's success was followed a bit too closely. Lyrically, they are nearly identical. Both describe the band, its intentions, and even its fans ("Brothers and sisters, put this record down/Take my advice, 'cause we are bad news" in the former, with "Our hearts beat for the die-hards" this time around). The production isn't much different, though "'The Take Over, The Breaks Over'" which is, indeed, titled with quotation marks sounds more open than anything on "Cork Tree", and the rest of the album follows suit. It's actually a bit overwhelming at times. The album may sound open, but there's a lot less in the way of sound itself. Yes, "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race" has a bit of an R&B vibe and "Golden" is a wonderful piano solo for Stump, but all-in-all, "Infinity On High" breaks more from "Cork Tree" than from itself. Variety is the record's worst enemy in both lyrical and musical content, with everything after "Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?" (the eighth track out of fourteen, mind you) having the same basic structure and the same degree of variation; each track only slightly builds upon the last. Even in building, the pieces fail to stack anywhere near the highs of "Cork Tree", with every track feeling longer, slower in pace (not just tempo), and generally less fun. Guitar work is still at the center of Fall Out Boy's musical tootsie pop: pop-punk-ish guitar work is at every turn, though a couple of solos have been thrown in. Drums are slightly more important (albeit slightly less interesting) than on previous releases. Sadly, two of the most lively tracks b-sides "It's Hard To Say 'I Do' When I Don't" and "G.I.N.A.S.F.S." - didn't make the cut. Though it sounds little like its predecessor, "Infinity On High" certainly does ride the wave of "Cork Tree" and of its own presumed fame. The record is bizarrely self-important, uncomfortably insecure, and at times desperately flat. It is as good as much of "Cork Tree", but repeatedly looks over its own shoulder for assurance. The stretch from "This Ain't A Scene..." to "Don't You Know..." is the record's highlight, and has enough blind fun to sneak the second half in, but if Wentz would stop writing about fame, perhaps the party might have gone on anyway.
Lyrics — 6
While Wentz manages a prolonged leak on the core of the album, he does slip in the usual slightly-too-self-aware lyricism. "I'm a stitch away from making it/And a scar away from falling apart" is among some of the blander emotive lines, but the honest performances sound as good as anything the band is capable of, with "Golden" being a particular triumph. At other times, however, Wentz nearly falls into the trap often flaunted within the genre: hyperbole. Whether the band actively participates or not, the emo culture with which their fans are so fascinated are overflowing with bands that exaggerate every topic possible, from Simple Plan's infamous "How Could This Happen To Me?" to Good Charlotte's "Chronicles Of Life And Death" record. Specifically, these bands have a tendency to bask in whatever subject they write about as if receiving divine inspiration about ideas no one else could possibly have had. It's the opposite of what makes writers like Waits and Dylan so intriguing: subtlety. Far be it from Wentz to abandon it altogether, but whether it be fame, sex, suicide or depression, he cuts it close this time around.
Overall Impression — 6
Though a somewhat frustrating record, "Infinity On High" comes packed with nice lyrical moments, a greater range than on "Cork Tree", and some phenomenal performances from Stump. It does, far too often, flounder in its own formula. The sleeve is emptied of tricks by "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs", and though nothing after is hard to listen to, it isn't nearly as involving as the mach speed final stretch of "Cork Tree". If Wentz would put his junk away instead of rubbing it or its sensation, perhaps all over the record, perhaps Fall Out Boy could resume the steep climb to a profound self-realization and truly noteworthy musicianship.