One of the most contentious threads I can remember on ILX was over a blogpost by Ultragrrrl claiming that My Chemical Romance were “this generation’s Nirvana”. OK, the thread was contentious more because Ultragrrrl herself was a divisive figure than because of what she was saying, but it resonated with me. In MCR – and Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, and the raging rest of “mall-emo” – you had a kind of music which was angry, teen-approved, popular, guitar-driven… and a lot of major critical voices basically refused to take it seriously. For instance, there was plenty of expectation and enthusiasm for Fall Out Boy’s Folie A Deux among some Pitchfork writers, but the site didn’t cover it, and wasn’t alone. The sites and magazines that DID go for this music – like Britain’s Kerrang! – tended to do rather well out of it. But for more credible sources, the stuff seemed to be kryptonite. Why?
The easiest way for me to answer that is to go back to why I didn’t like it – it wasn’t until Infinity On High that I started paying non-contemptuous attention to Fall Out Boy. Since the things that make me like them now are more or less the things that made me recoil then it’s hard to switch back into that mindset, but I guess I thought they were too showy, too knotty in their songwriting, too self-aware. Some of these are the kind of things people would have said about Morrissey when I was 15 and falling in love with the Smiths, of course. And maybe this is a key to matters: 25 year olds aren’t often comfortable with what 15 year olds dig.
That’s not the whole story, though – lots of 15 year olds like Muse and the Editors, and good luck to ’em. What do I enjoy about Fall Out Boy? They’re sometimes slated for phoniness or insincerity but one of the good things about the band is how self-awareness and sincerity seem to float about in superposition: Pete Wentz is quite aware the lyrics he writes will end up on profiles and in sigfiles, the digital equivalent of pencil cases. He crafts them as soundbites and blog updates, writes (as here) about unexpected fame, fakes that it doesn’t matter, lets you know it does. You can’t get away with lines like “Long live the car crash hearts” if you mean it any more: but if you don’t mean it you end up like the Darkness – the only way you can pull it off is by leaving the question up to whoever’s out there using the song. It could be 4 Real, it could be a joke you’re in on and the haters aren’t: whatever you need. They seem to me a very generous band.
Musically, I love that they’re unafraid of the big hard rock chorus and that they’re good at it. I’ve grown to admire that knottiness, the way their songs lurch around and cram lyrics into unexpected cadences. I also think they did well out of the Loudness Wars: a band like them who play a little with the idea of phoniness somehow shouldn’t sound organic, and the self-transforming tools of the modern studio, from compression to Autotune, suit them.