Chicago pop-punk rockers Fall Out Boy sure know how to make a statement. Frontman Patrick Stump is svelte, bassist Pete Wentz is blonde and their latest album title is an ode to two controversial American films. The makeover, however, is invasive.
American Beauty/American Psycho (or AB/AP) is the band’s sixth studio album, and the follow-up to their comeback record Save Rock and Roll (2013). If a rock riff renaissance is what you were after then you’ll be sorely disappointed with the band’s latest attempt.
Produced by Jake Sinclair, J.R. Rotem, Omega, SebastiAn and Butch Walker, what the album does do well is cement the band’s seemingly diverse discography. The record title’s exciting connotations, however, never truly come into fruition in the music. Inherent themes of murder, lust, ambition and greed are glossed over to the point of invisibility.
The album art – featuring a young boy with a black American flag painted on one side of his face – also suggests the record is politically motivated and brimming with patriotic ideals. Sure, there are references to the American dream and luxurious Hollywood lifestyles, but other than that, it’s just another rock offering.
Album opener ‘Irresistible’ is a lavish, self-indulgent anthem – a good start at least. The track starts unexpectedly with trumpets, and then Stump’s distinctively loud vocals kick in, underscored by fuzz. It’s a polished piece of pop-rock with a radio friendly, catchy “whoa” centred chorus.
On the next track, Stump declares his girl is an “American beauty” and he an “American psycho”. Despite the hype, the title track is lack-lustre in its ostentatious outbursts. It promises too much with its intriguing title but delivers very little in content. Stump doesn’t fit the Patrick Bateman mold, so the song’s protestations come across as caricatured.
Stump, Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley venture into new territory here with lots of “oohs” and “aahs” and it just doesn’t sit right with their image. Perhaps Stump’s sudden weight-loss should’ve been a clue that that band’s typical “heavier” sound was behind them.
Hit single ‘Centuries’ is a delicious example of making a statement, and a glimpse into what the band could have done with the rest of the album if they followed this formula. Self-described as a “David vs. Goliath story” with booming battle-cry lyricism and epic, chant-centric choruses, the track is screaming for a stadium setting already. The eerie, female ditty intro is sampled from American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega’s song ‘Tom’s Diner’, as the band wanted to “re-inject” it into pop culture. ‘Centuries’ is a sublime standout amongst the rest.
Stump’s vocals on ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ are unrecognisable to being with, as he languidly sings his way through the hip-hoppy verse, before his distinctive bellow bursts in the more upbeat chorus. ‘Uma Thurman’ plays on the American Psycho side of the album, with Wentz’ beastly bass line and The Munsters theme song hook anchoring the lite lyrics.
‘Novocaine’ refers to a “numb”, loveless relationship, and is essentially a call-out cacophony combining ethereal highs and grizzly lows. ‘Fourth of July’ has no fireworks and ‘Favorite Record’ is nowhere near as sentimental as it claims to be.
Album closer ‘Twin Skeletons (Hotel in NYC)’ has an overdone “whoa” chorus, and Stump grates and overpowers the far more interesting harmonious orchestral backing vocals.
American Beauty/American Psycho promised a return to the gladiator-style rock numbers the band are famous for, but the result is watered down and sugar-coated. Every track just bleeds into the next with little or no explosive guitar solos or rhythms to speak of and very repetitive storytelling. It’s always a bummer to discover the hit single (in this case ‘Centuries’) is the only great track from an album. Fall Out Boy seem to tip-toe around their heavier rock origins, instead opting to sprinkle their sound with fairy floss and Hallmark card clichés.
This pop malarkey just doesn’t suit you Fall Out Boy, it really doesn’t.
American Beauty/American Psycho will be released on January 20th via Island Music.