Fall Out Boy ended their four-year hiatus with 2013’s immodestly titled Save Rock and Roll—but these days, the bombastic wise-asses are as much a rock band as OneRepublic. On their sixth LP, American Beauty/American Psycho, FOB reaffirm their status as arena-pop fence-swingers, framing Patrick Stump’s melismatic yelp with electronic beats, left-field samples and enough kick-drum reverb to fill a shark tank. Rock still needs saving, but these guys have other work to do.
Like its predecessor, AB/AP is lightyears removed from the savvy pop-punk craftsmanship of their 2003 debut Take This to Your Grave or their “Sugar”-y commercial breakout, 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree. Modern FOB is brasher, more excessive and way more expensive-sounding. And that’s a win/lose prospect: The sonic landscapes have shifted toward a more generic, less dynamic approach—one tailored consciously for 2015 pop radio. But even still, the band’s never sounded more comfortable in its own skin.
The clearest proof is lead single “Centuries,” which puts their maximalist approach to head-spinning use: layering in Queen-like chipmunk choirs, melodramatic piano lines and comically massive hip-hop drum breaks. But even if the arrangement borders on overstuffed, Stump’s belted chorus hook (“You will remember me / Remember me, for centuries”) is a delicious flavor of overkill—the kind only he could muster. This might not be the Fall Out Boy we want, but it’s the only Fall Out Boy we’ve got. And when it’s this thrilling, it’s hard to care much where the distortion’s gone.
Each one of these tracks could—hell, should—work as major singles, from the anthemic “The Kids Aren’t Alright” to the horn-driven caterwaul of “Irresistible” to the disco-punk thrust of “Novocaine,” wherein Stump somehow discovers another gear on his supersonically soulful falsetto. The only problem is how uniform it all starts to feel: Stump’s self-serious delivery often cancels out the trademark brattiness of bassist Pete Wentz’s lyrics. (Sample: “I’m just a problem that doesn’t wanna be solved / So you could please hold your applause?”) And the cranked-to-11 mix is exhausting, despite the album’s trim, 39-minute run-time.
AB/AP is more intriguing when the band follows their wackiest instincts: Closer “Twin Skeleton’s (Hotel in NYC)” climaxes with a spine-tingling choral chant; meanwhile, the nutso “Uma Thurman” seamlessly samples the goddamn Munsters theme song. (Only Fall Out Boy can win you over by pissing you off.)
Two albums back from their creative exile, Stump and company show no signs of fatigue. “We could be immortals,” the frontman sings with reliable gusto. Maybe he’s right.