Pamela Littky

When Fall Out Boy cheekily named its previous album Save Rock And Roll, it opened the group up to criticism about its place (or perceived lack thereof) within the genre. For the most part, these discussions about stylistic semantics were boring and needlessly cynical; after all, the title track very sincerely referred to the band rekindling its passion for playing music, both with each other and in general. Plus, any arguments about authenticity and intent obscured a more important point about Fall Out Boy’s career: Although the quartet came up in the suburban punk and Chicago hardcore scene and have been a pop radio staple for most of the band’s career, Fall Out Boy somehow still feels like mainstream misfits—too scrappy and rough for pop’s polished upper echelon and too enamored with hip-hop and electro for rock’s monochromatic worldview.

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That stubborn rebel mentality persists on Fall Out Boy’s frenetic sixth studio album, American Beauty/American Psycho, which often takes a fractured, mad scientist approach to modern music. The vivacious, danceable “Uma Thurman” uses the theme from The Munsters as its foundation and ends up a beach-blanket pogo with goth-surf vibes. Standout “Novocaine”—a furious song said to be inspired by the events in Ferguson—is an aggressive guitar snarl with a melodic, soaring chorus, while “Favorite Record” cuts its wistful jangle-rock twirls with a heavily processed robotic voice. And the title track—which is produced by Sebastian, a French musician who’s recorded for the Ed Banger label—feels gloriously duct-taped together; the tune boasts metallic shard-like samples of Mötley Crüe circa Too Fast For Love, uphill harmonies à la “Twist & Shout,” a tough-guy-playground-chant bridge and vocalist Patrick Stump holding the song together like a soul-funk revue emcee.

These moments underscore how much Fall Out Boy have in common with the Beastie Boys, another group that grew to bridge (and transcend) genres by finding novel ways to stitch music, samples, and sounds together. (Bassist Pete Wentz’s penchant for clever pop cultural references—highlighted by “I’ve got those jetpack blues just like Judy” and “The stench of summer sex / And CK Eternity, oh hell yes”—further support the Beasties comparisons.) However, American Beauty/American Psycho’s playful musical vibe masks lyrics plagued by flashbulb memories of failed relationships and ill-fated romantic dalliances. Thankfully, there’s no self-pity in sight on these songs, only heightened self-awareness (“I’m sorry every song’s about you / The torture of small talk / With someone you used to love”), pledges for romantic teamwork (“I’m still comparing your past to my future / It might be your wound but / They’re my sutures”) and apologetic gestures (“I just got too lonely / In between being young and being right”). With the benefit of hindsight and perspective, the narrators reach something close to emotional enlightenment.

Yet American Beauty/American Psycho is no nostalgia trip. If anything, the record also contains the most contemporary-sounding music of the band’s career—in the form of arena-sized guitar jams scrambled with digital noise (“Immortals”), airy electropop with bulletproof choruses (the midtempo, tortured “The Kids Aren’t Alright”) and hip-hop-influenced pop (“Irresistible”). These three songs are not only a far cry from the band’s early punk days, they’re even a marked progression from the modern pop found on Save Rock And Roll. Still, they’re also completely indicative of what the quartet has always been: a band that’s never wallowed in the past or wanted to repeat itself. American Beauty/American Psycho is Fall Out Boy continuing to create its own musical reality—and inviting everyone else to catch up if they can.

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