We’re living in a golden age of long song titles, and Fall Out Boy are leading the way. In the olden days, rock stars used parentheses and slashes to prove they were serious artists, refusing to reduce their verbiage for radio DJs or jukeboxes. But in the MySpace era, bands have discovered commas, and as a result song titles have gotten longer than Meat Loaf ever dreamed possible. “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” is perhaps the ultimate Fall Out Boy statement — in a rock world increasingly divided by niche loyalties, FOB use their comma as a crowbar to break through the boundaries, only to tell the crowd, “Bandwagon’s full/Please find another.”
You have to be impressed by Fall Out Boy’s ability to divide audiences into love-’em and hate-’em factions. Most of this intense reaction is due to the Wentz Factor. Singer-guitarist Patrick Stump’s gee-whiz earnest voice strains with the strip-mall soul of classic Eighties car-radio voices like John Waite or Night Ranger’s Jack Blades. But that voice wouldn’t mean a thing without bassist-lyricist Pete Wentz’s tortured egomaniac confessions. Together, they form a strange singer-writer unit, a hybrid character you would have to call Peterick or Wentztump or something. (Sure, Pete Townshend wrote Roger Daltrey’s lyrics, but he also wrote the rest of the songs — Wentz only does the words, then lets Stump and the band handle the music.) Wentz is the guy who makes non-fans see red, and he likes it that way. As he puts it on Infinity on High, “Fame < Infamy.”
Fall Out Boy open the album with “Thriller,” named after a Michael Jackson album they’d love to outsell, with a go-get-’em intro from label boss Jay-Z. Now that they’re famous, they have even more sordid secrets to dish about, and it suits them. “This Ain’t a Scene” is a bold single, complete with sampled drums and a Nineties R&B hook that sounds like Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” But it’s not an album of stylistic departures — in gems like “The Take Over, the Break’s Over,” “You’re Crashing, But You’re No Wave” and “The Carpal Tunnel of Love,” these guys do all the things they’re excellent at (mega-clever choruses, crescendo-stacking melodies, horrific puns) and none of the things they would suck at (saxophones, strings, slowing it down a little right about now).
In a casting coup, they bring in soul man extraordinaire Babyface to produce a couple of tracks, and the funny part is they sound exactly like all the others. But it’s great to have ‘Face back (where have you been, guy? We need you!), and he has to take some credit for the sheer brilliance of “I’m Like a Lawyer the Way I Keep Trying to Get You Off (Me and You).”
Before Fall Out Boy became famous, they had a song called “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends.” They’ve got more of both categories than ever now, and it wouldn’t be their style to avoid taking sides. For a band that opens its album with the battle cry “Long live the car-crash hearts!” FOB know exactly who their real fans are and make no concessions to non-fans at all. They need non-fans to hate-hate-hate them the way Young Jeezy needs people to think he really sells drugs. When Stump bemoans spending his life “in hotel rooms collecting Page Six lovers,” you realize Wentz probably wrote that line before hooking up with Lindsay Lohan. Makes you wonder if he wrote the song, then made a note to date Lindsay before the record came out — you can’t put it past him. He’s a dork with his own supposedly hacked sex photos (yeah, right), whose chances of getting even the most sub-Lohan chicks if he weren’t in a band would seem to rank with the proverbial snowball in hell, so it’s no wonder he’s a divisive figure. But he’s why Fall Out Boy deserve every bit of their success: On Infinity on High, they expose the secret life of boys, in hilariously bloodcurdling detail.