“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.”
This past February Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High turned 10. A little more than a month later, they released “Young and Menace” as the latest installment in a very weird catalogue of musical accomplishments. It’s clear that Fall Out Boy is consciously aware of their contribution to the rock cannon. Despite the image that they garnered for themselves after coming back from hiatus, they occupy a difficult position in 2017s pop music scene. They’re stuck between the bleeding edge of rock and roll and pop banality. It’s clear that the group has veered further towards pop-rock as of late, but their contributions to good old fashioned rock and roll over the years are convenient punctuations on an otherwise incomprehensible sentence.
Take This To Your Grave and From Under the Cork Tree don’t really push boundaries unless you consider the maximum characters for a song title in mp3 metadata a legitimate boundary. [As much as fans love “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued” the alternate title of “My Name Is David Ruffin And These Are The Temptations” wasn’t much better.] Fall Out Boy’s greatest accomplishment over the last 16 years of being a band has always been the self-aware way that they perform. Very rarely do they wholeheartedly play the part of rock and roll performers in the same way that they wholeheartedly embrace the jaded-artist persona. Lyrics like “We’re only good for the latest trends/ We’re only good because you can have almost famous friends / besides we’ve got such great fashion sense” from the above-mentioned song really hammer home the level satire and commentary that Fall Out Boy is capable of. The now ten year old Infinity on High took a calculated step towards sincerity, but didn’t take the band all the way there. Folie à Deux took the band even further towards an immersion in the rock-and-roll character that (until 2008) they had stayed away from.
Since returning from hiatus, Fall Out Boy has returned to the same self-depreciating humor and intentional distance from the rock-and-roll life. It might have been a move away from the self-aware lyrics and storytelling that pushed the band towards hiatus. Needless to say, fans were relieved to see that when Fall Out Boy came back from their break they made a masterful return to everything we loved about the original band. What we remember as so special about Infinity on High might be the way that it walked the line between irony and sincerity. Does Pete Wentz think that he’s Vincent Van Gogh? No. Is Fall Out Boy the kind of band to make hyperbolic references to famous artists? Absolutely. All of this leaves fans wondering: What on earth is going on with “Young and Menace”? For god’s sake, between the voce effects, the synth, and choir-vocals the chorus is just a mess.
Sure, “Young and Menace” isn’t exactly the most polished (coherent? listenable? productive?) track that Fall Out Boy has put out lately, but I think it retains a certain essential quality of Fall Out Boy. Ten years ago they had Jay-Z perform spoken-word poetry to introduce an album. That’s not normal. I think fans ought to give Fall Out Boy the benefit of the doubt with the new album. Just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s not classic Fall Out Boy. Their song titles have certainly gotten shorter and American Beauty/American Psycho was a bit of an odd album in the larger FOB project, but it doesn’t sound like M A N I A (or however they’re stylizing the title) is going to be quite the nail in Fall Out Boy’s coffin that Folie à Deux proved to be. Importantly, nothing about “Young and Menace” sounds like Fall Out Boy is taking a step away from the detached ironic commentary on rock and roll life that makes them such a special band. The song is a true tour-de-force of rock references, self-references, and pop-references. Between the band’s second explicit jab at Britney Spears and references to two early Fall Out Boy songs the first verse also manages to reference Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe and his several overdoses. Fall Out Boy is clearly reaching for the metaphorical stars with their new track and I for one can’t wait to see the album. If this new track is any indication of what the new album will be like, it’ll be a release to do Infinity on High proud. It’ll be weird, it’ll be intelligent, clever, self-referential, and consciously mature in its ironic reproduction of pop-music’s excess.