Go ahead and scoff at the entire mall-punk genre if you will ("Punk rock just isn't supposed to sound so glossy and commercial!"), but there can be no denying Fall Out Boy's mastery of the form, just as there was no denying the virtuosity, craftsmanship and ultimate appeal of, say, the best hair-metal acts in the '80s ("Heavy metal just isn't supposed to sound so glossy and commercial!"). In the end, any purists offended by the band's shuck and jive are just missing out on some harmless and irresistible fun.
The fifth album from the suburban Chicago punks-turned-multi-platinum superstars and gossip-column staples, which arrives in stores on Tuesday, veers away from the subtle R&B undercurrents heard on last year's "Infinity on High"--only the grandiose ballad "What A Catch, Donnie" continues in that direction--in favor of the grand arena-rock stomp of, whaddya know, vintage hair metal. Yet this is delivered at tempos just punk enough to stave off undue pomp, even when producer Neil Avron piles on the multi-tracked vocal harmonies, synthesized orchestras, grand pianos, church choirs and generally superfluous guest cameos. (These include Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello, though only the latter can really even be heard, briefly, on the aforementioned ballad.)
As in the past, the quartet's strengths remain its bounteous hooks, Patrick Stump's soulful everyman vocals and bassist-lyricist Pete Wentz's snarky simultaneous celebrations/critiques of all that is glossy and vapid in life circa 2009, from twittering and celebrity obsessing to appropriating cultural flotsam and jetsam that doesn't mean a thing in context but certainly sounds or looks cool, a la the stolen riffs from the Who and Depeche Mode or the nod to David Mamet in the needlessly parenthetical title of ("Coffee's for Closers").
The first single "I Don't Care" is as entertaining as a spoiled kid's tantrum at the mall (providing the kid isn't yours and you're far enough away that the screeching doesn't puncture an eardrum); "America's Suitehearts" is the anthem Generation Y never knew it needed and won't really understand ("Let's hear it for America's suitehearts/I must confess I'm in love with my own sins") and Wentz even pulls off the enviable hat trick of goofing on his own celebrity bride, bragging about his recent celebrity fatherhood and mocking his own celebrity image in "She's My Winona" ("Hell or glory/I don't want anything in between/Then came a baby boy with long eyelashes/And daddy said, 'You gotta show the world the thunder!'").
Even when the band's wildest stylistic experiments fall flat--as they do in attempting to graft an old Paul Williams-style '70s show tune onto a pop-punk anthem in "20 Dollar Nose Bleed"--you have to applaud the audacious ambition. The last Chicago rocker to try such absurd high-wire acts while attempting to turn underground sounds into stadium cliches was Billy Corgan, but where even the most grandiose of his sonic constructions could teeter under the weight of his emotional angst, Fall Out Boy plays every emotion for laughs and never skimps on the melodies or the adrenaline, making their particular brand of "madness shared by two" all the more infectious.