Are there many other bands that defined the rock scene of the 2000s more than Fall Out Boy? My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco aside, Fall Out Boy singlehandedly manifested pop-punk and emo music into what we know now as various hallmarks of noughties music culture. Their third studio album, Infinity on High, would go on to become the band’s most commercially and critically successful album in their lengthy discography and takes much of the responsibility for the era’s definition. And if for some reason, the album wasn’t up to individual standard, the thrashing guitar of ‘This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race’ or the breakneck violin backbone to ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ alone was still enough to soundtrack the life of any 2000s kid, rock fan or not.
With a debut and sophomore album that struck as much of a chord as 2003’s pop-punk powerhouse Take This To Your Grave and 2005’s iconic From Under the Cork Tree, the Chicago-born boys put themselves in quite the tough spot when it came to releasing a good quality third effort. Luckily, they went the extra mile and instead of showing that they couldn’t measure up to their prior releases, they proved they would prevail in the world of rock, whilst also incorporating the mainstream, poppier sounds that were making headway at the time, in a record that utilized both with profound mastery. For instance, songs like ‘I’ve Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None On My Fingers’ and ‘The (After)Life of the Party’ showcase the significance of both orchestral and soul influence, the former brandishing both trumpets, a dominant piano, and a fast-paced guitar riff alongside frontman Patrick Stump’s restrained falsetto to intertwine the song’s soul roots with an aura of flamboyance.
From the opening of ‘Thriller,’ the album’s first song and home to the collaborative efforts of none other than Jay-Z (who opens the track with a strong “what you critics said would never happen/ we dedicate this album to anybody people said couldn’t make it/ to the fans that held us down ‘till everybody came around/ welcome, it’s here”), the thematic vein of fame, and FOB’s uprising into the pop-punk stratosphere and straight into the public eye is made painstakingly obvious. Cork Tree had propelled them from underground rock mavericks to pop-punk pioneers and the pressure was on to create something worthy of a follow-up. Stump, however, reflected on the album’s process, saying “the second you worry about other people’s expectations is the second you can expect failure. Not that we didn’t have big hopes for this album – we wanted our fans to love it more than anything. But put it this way: we don’t sit around second-guessing everything. If you do that, you’re bound to make sterile music and that’s when you can expect failure.”
Despite this, the album focuses on the pressures of being held too tightly in the limelight and the band’s rise to fame. Lyrically, ‘The (After)Life of the Party’ (“I’m a stitch away from making it/ and a scar away from falling apart’), ‘This Ain’t A Scene’ (“Bandwagon’s full, please catch another”), ‘”The Take Over, The Breaks Over”‘ (“I’m boring but overcompensate with/ headlines and flash, flash, flash photography”), and ‘Fame < Infamy’ (“Signing off “I’m alright in bed, but I’m better with a pen”/ The kid was alright but it went to his head”) stand out, matching Pete Wentz’s (bassist and then-lead-lyricist) trademark poetic witticisms with a genuine struggle with the razzle-dazzle of celebrity status.
‘The Carpal Tunnel of Love’ is perhaps the closest the album gets to its Cork Tree and Take This To Your Grave roots, flourishing quick, knotted guitar riffs alongside a self-deprecating chorus and Wentz’s characteristic screaming in the song’s bridge, the only song on the album to include it. More prominent on the band’s earlier albums, the screaming clashes with the poetically written lyrics (“It was ice cream headaches and sweet avalanche/ When the pearls in our shells got up to dance/ You call me a bad tipper of the cradle/ Tired yawns for fawns on hunter’s lawns”), and eventually overlaps with Stump’s partially falsetto vocals for the final reprise of the chorus.
All this while ‘Hum Hallelujah,’ ‘Golden’ and ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ act as almost a three-parter of a track, each blending seamlessly into the other, the ticking of ‘Golden’ into ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ enough to send chills through even the most sceptical of FOB fans, the drifting of the high-spirited ‘Hum Hallelujah’ into the dejection of ‘Golden’ a masterclass in album narrative.
In and amongst the anthemic hits FOB are still known for, the album boasts many a fan favourite and a handful of hidden gems. From ‘Thriller’ to ‘Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?’ to ‘Fame < Infamy’: it’s often regarded as hugely lucky to find an album that requires no song be skipped, and Infinity on High, in this writer’s opinion, surpasses even that. It isn’t that there is no need for any song to be skipped, but more that they each flaunt such an original and magnetic quality that you genuinely want to listen to them over and over again. Such is the difference between Cork Tree and Infinity on High. The former may be my favourite album of all time, but the latter disregards favouritism entirely for confidence and blissfully successful experimentation. The songs may not be as raw and personal as those on Cork Tree, but not one of them is worthy of any label less than being absolutely and unashamedly outstanding.
“But first and foremost it documented this blur that had become our lives. This record more than any of the other has always reminded me of night time – both the anxiety of insomnia and the peace of being awake when everyone else is asleep. I remember before we released it I used it like a security blanket, listening and trying to fall asleep. I really appreciate everyone who gave this one a chance” – Pete Wentz, on the 10th anniversary of Infinity on High
Fall Out Boy’s seventh album, MANIA, is out now via Island Records. Watch the iconic video for ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ below.