Sep 09

FALL OUT BOY – “Thriller”

FT14 comments • 7,330 views

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.


  1. 1
    Richaod on 18 Sep 2009 #

    Another excellent writeup – Fall Out Boy’s postmodernism does make them… almost representative of the decade in a way, at least for me. But at the same time, they’ve kind of gradually transformed into a far more classicist pop-rock entity than anything resembling terribly defined “emo”. Hmmm.

  2. 2

    as “postmodernism” has become one of those words which means 20 difft clusters of things for every 20 ppl that use it, which bits are you calling postmodern richaod? stuff that tom said or other stuff he didn’t say?

    (apologies: as a sub-editor i ave pretty much taken to crossing this word out in copy i work on, and firing off a query “plz say concretely what mean? no two readers agree on content of term”)

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 18 Sep 2009 #

    ‘w.a.m.s.’ from their last album is a real favourite – an album in one song!

  4. 4
    Renée on 18 Sep 2009 #

    I see it the exact same way. But still when people ask my favorite band I can neve say fall out boy because people judge you as a fangirl. Really they know what they’re doing. Maybe they aren’t the best musicians but they manage to be this hugely popular world wide band that even people who say they hate them really don’t. Try have it figured out.

  5. 5
    Katherine Jepson on 18 Sep 2009 #

    Thank you so much for writing this, it made my day :)

  6. 6
    Rachel on 18 Sep 2009 #

    thats so weird.
    I was listening to Thriller as I was reading this, and “Long live the car crash hearts” came up just as I read that line. Creepy :P

  7. 7
    Kat on 18 Sep 2009 #

    this is a great review. i’m also always hesitant to say they’re my favorite band, because people judge. at this point, whenever someone asks me my favorite band, i say “i like bands that everyone else hates.” people think fall out boy are too mainstream, too poppy, too self-aware… but i really wouldn’t give a crap if they went on mtv and told everyone “we like money and fame and don’t care about you guys,” because i still love the music.
    and thriller is my absolute favorite song, ever. :] good choice. i think it kind of sums up the position they were at when they wrote infinity on high.

  8. 8
    Leoni Horton on 18 Sep 2009 #

    well i think fall out boy are amazing. and i would always say im a fan even if people judge me as a fangirl. i feel really privileged to have been to two of their gigs. I love them so much i want to thank them.!

  9. 9
    boomerang on 19 Sep 2009 #

    LOL, I love it when insecure people are embarrassed of liking what they like and have to write 500-word articles to defensively explain that they only like this uncool thing for cool reasons.

    You’re too old for guilty pleasures, dude! Just be out and proud. Let your freak flag fly.

  10. 10
    911I Dont Care on 19 Sep 2009 #

    Yes, I agree. I LOVE Fall Out Boy and don’t care if people judge me. Heck, I’m getting a Pete Went’z signature bass guitar. They are my favorite band and they have inspired me. They do things their own way and I like that. Their song “I Dont Care” (my all time favorite song) is perfect for their public outlook on things.

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    Heresyourverse on 19 Sep 2009 #

    It doesn’t matter what people think when it comes to music. Since when did liking something require explanation? Music is one of the last things people have to explain who they are. When someone asks me who my favorite band is I say fall out boy, half of the people hate them but I really don’t care because I like them and they don’t have to. I just don’t think you have to write a blog entry defending why fall out boy is on your iPod. Get over the fear that someone might look at you the wrong way because you want to like your music.

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    Hollie on 19 Sep 2009 #

    excellent review and for all those who think Fall Out Boy is for 15 year olds…. I’m 29 and I wear my Overcast Kids button on my lanyard that holds my badge for my real grown up job. Always have. Always will.

  13. 13
    Tom on 19 Sep 2009 #

    Yeah the 15yos thing is a bit lazy given that the people who got me to stop being silly and like FOB were Cis (20s) and Maura (30s).

    Anyway, thankyou all for looking at my review – the power of Twitter, eh? To the people saying its defensive – it’s part of a “top tracks of the 00s” series so for regular readers I’m kind of taking the “this is rly good” bit for granted and trying to dig into other stuff.

  14. 14
    cis on 19 Sep 2009 #

    tbf part of the reason i like FOB is the feeling of being fifteen – or at least, of being in that indeterminate messy bit of life where clever lyrics and power chords are these huge pieces of meaning you can cling to.

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