I promise that this is the last Fall Out Boy album about which I will complain that Patrick Stump’s gloriously thick, wondrously bombastic, and defiantly mouthy vocals are ill-served by bassist Pete Wentz’s melodramatic lyrics. Stump, much like he did on last year’s Infinity on High, warbles through the verses and pounds out the choruses on a dozen more songs penned by FOB’s overexposed real frontman, and let’s be honest: His voice deserves better than the eye-roll-inducing “The best of us can find happiness in misery” (from “I Don’t Care”) or “I’m in love with my own sins” (from recent single “America’s Suitehearts”). Am I reading too much into things that Stump sounds so thrilled blasting out the line “Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy” on Folie a Deux‘s title track, with musical/aesthetic hints of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” creeping in around the edges?
Consider those bum lines vestigial remnants of Fall Out Boy’s since-discarded Emo of Christmas Past—you know, back when they screamed and self-deprecated and threatened suicide over girlfriends and almost-girlfriends. Last year’s Infinity on High continued the band’s transformation into a chart-topping beast more concerned with hooks than making young men weep, backed by a rhythm section devoutly committed to inspiring teenybopper Warped Tour crowd-surfing and, occasionally, arena-style iPhone-waving. Their aesthetic reinvention is certainly partly economic (Folie‘s release date got pushed back a couple of months by the recession, or so they claimed), but in this case, selling out has actually improved the quality of the band. Hot Topic fanatics will throw tantrums, but the rest of us can enjoy FOB’s flirtation with r&b on “Tiffany Blews.”
Maybe politically, Folie a Deux isn’t so exciting; Stump’s “hurry, hurry, hurry,” on “w.a.m.s.” is meant to foment radio play, not revolution. But in trying to distinguish contemporary pop emo from its sources in bands like Sunny Day Real Estate or Rites of Spring, maybe FOB is actually the inevitable conclusion of ’80s emo splitting off from hardcore punk. When emo minimized the political message of the punk aesthetic, it unwittingly paved the way for FOB to write this deliciously poppy, hooky, dance-worthy album. So what if it results in a few more radio-friendly hits? God bless ’em.