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Junk Mail: Fall Out Boy 'American Beauty/American Psycho' Album Review

by Carolyn Menyes   Jan 22, 2015 17:48 PM EST

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Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling and Caitlin Carter chat about Fall Out Boy's new album American Beauty/American Psycho. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.

Carolyn Menyes: I guess I should start this Junk Mail off by being fully honest. Objectively, I can understand the appeal of Fall Out Boy and why they're deemed a successful and good band. Certainly out of that whole pop-punk mess of the mid-2000s, they're the lone major players left in the game.

Subjectively, I cannot stand FOB. I can't put my finger on it. Is it Patrick Stump's voice? The annoying sense of importance they give themselves? Those way too long song titles from back in the day? Pete Wentz's hair? I don't know, and it makes me feel like a crummy music journalist for not having an amazing reason for disliking Fall Out Boy.

That said, I will admit this album surprised me by being ambitious and mostly fulfilling that. I don't hate it, and that's the first time I can say that about a Fall Out Boy project. 

Caitlin Carter: I am in the exact same boat (although I had actually been under the impression that you were a FOB fan, Carolyn). I honestly had to listen to the album a few times to get into the mindset of reviewing it because it's so offbase from what I generally enjoy.

For me, their sound often seems gratuitous/over-the-top, and Stump always seems like he's going to run out of breath or go insane (don't know why that's where my imagination goes). However, I will say this album was ambitious. The band pulled from a bunch of different places to put this thing together. Although I'm not really surprised by anything on the album, they did come up with some interesting arrangements that weren't predictable and chose some interesting samples.

Kyle Dowling: I'm pretty much in agreement with you both. Though there was a part of my life (my teenage years) where I did enjoy the band's music. And while I'm not particularly a fan of them these days, I wasn't too surprised to find that there were a large number of catchy riffs and tunes on AB/AP. Despite being on my not-to-listen list, I can't deny that they've been able to craft a number of tracks that have been stuck in my head after one listen. Sadly, it's never warranted another listen on my end. Will I revisit this album after today's Junk Mail? Probably not.

CM: Interesting that we're all coming from a similar perspective. I don't know how often that happens.
I think what makes me not hate American Beauty/American Psycho is that this album is ambitious and I appreciate that from a music fan perspective. I really like Fall Out Boy's use of sampling on "Centuries" and "Uma Thurman."

In a recent interview on The Tonight Show, Fall Out Boy noted that they wanted to mess around with sampling because it wasn't supposed to be "rock 'n' roll," and I just thought that was really refreshing for a band to do something actually different. And it worked.

I'm pretty lukewarm on "Centuries" now -- and maybe it's because I've written about it too much -- but I'll be damned if "Uma Thurman" doesn't get me grooving every time I listen to it. I've heard it maybe seven times by now and I'm still not sick of it. I think the use of The Munsters theme song was so clever and well placed. It carries the momentum of that song forward perfectly.

CC: Yes. The sampling on this album was pretty interesting, and "Uma Thurman" sure is catchy. I go back and forth on whether I actually like the track or not, though. I feels a little cheesy, but I think The Munsters sample they used works perfectly with that Spaghetti-western feel Quentin Tarantino tends to go in his films. "Centuries" didn't do much for me. I liked "Jet Pack Blues" and "Novocaine" and thought the structure of "American Beauty/American Psycho" was cool.

KD: The sampling was surely an interesting way to go about the album. I do like the fact that they're not unwilling to try new things. It shows a lot of comfort in what they do. Though it all just ends up sounding like another Fall Out Boy song to me. Having said that, "Uma Thurman" is stuck in my head so I guess they did their job there. I can't fault them too much, because they've definitely been able to perfect what they do. It's hard enough to write one catchy tune that'll drive people insane. These guys have been able to do so time and time again. And this album is no different.

"Novocaine" is the perfect example of that - didn't find anything special about the verse but once the chorus kicked in, you can bet I'll be dancing to it (mentally, that is) for the rest of the day.

CM: I feel like that's the pop-punk way, keep it a little toned down for the verses and really kick it into gear for the chorus, complete with a punchy chorus and a killer hook. They do have that formula down to a pat, and it works. Does that mean, then, that every Fall Out Boy song is the same? I think that's a debate that can be had. With a few exceptions, I would kind of say yes. Every song on American Beauty/American Psycho is distinct but at the end of the day, the structure feels pretty similar on most of the offerings.

I couldn't immediately distinguish "Novocaine" from any other song. I had to relisten to remember which song you were talking about, Kyle.

CC: On my first listen, I was very much of the same mindset: that all the songs sounded the same. I had to really focus and try to look into the details to notice all the twists and turns within the songs. But ultimately what drives the album is the choruses, hooks, and guitar riffs. I thought "Favorite Record" and "Fourth of July" were both pretty cliche and forgettable. BTW, I forgot to mention earlier in my "things I liked" that I was a fan of opening with horns on the album. Didn't expect that.

KD: I don't want to say that all the songs sound the same. There are definitely a couple which sound a tad different to me, like "The Kids Aren't Alright." Then again, and I just thought of this, fast forward to the chorus and it's just another few seconds of Patrick singing in a high voice.

Perhaps the formula to each song is, "Let's give listeners a certain verse and a hook. Then let's jam the chorus with the same old stuff we've done for a while -- loud singing and loud guitars." I didn't catch that until just now.

I'd agree, Caitlin. The horns were a pretty cool touch. Actually, that song in general would be one of my "favorites" on the album.

CM: The horns at the top actually reminded me of Fifth Harmony's "BO$$"... which I don't even know what that says about me. But listen to them -- the pattern is different but I'm fairly certain it's the same notes.
That song (which is called "Irresistable," by the way, is a good setting scene for the rest of American Beauty/American Psycho. It has the drama in Stump's vocals, the punchy chorus, the slow build throughout the verses. It's pretty epic and definitely hard-hitting. I don't know if it's a standout to me. But I think it's a solid effort.

And you're right about "The Kids Aren't Alright," it seems like it should be different but in the end, the chorus changes tempo and volume, it's driving but it's not like it's so distinct. In the end, though, I like the emotion in the lyrics. It's got that disturbed suburbia, we survived this thing and I love you theme that still resonates with me from high school days. And isn't that what Fall Out Boy is kind of meant for?

CC: Didn't anyone else think that "Jet Pack Blues" sounds like an Ed Sheeran song (if it were stripped down)?

KD: I would say that Fall Out Boy IS meant for that disturbed suburbia type. Which is fine. I guess everyone needs a niche. And I did't think that initially about "Jet Pack Blues" but I can definitely understand what you mean after listening to it again, Caitlin. But listen, don't tell Fall Out Boy, but I think I might have enjoyed the song more if Ed Sheeran DID do it. Shhh!

So, do you both like this album better or worse than past Fall Out Boy albums? To me, it all sounds pretty similar to the types of things they've done in the past. One thing that's different is it seems they're not doing those extremely long titles anymore. Wasn't that their thing for a while or did I just make that up?

CM: So many points. OKAY... here I go.

Caitlin, I guess I get that for "Jet Pack Blues?" I'd have to hear it acoustic to really get a full understanding of the Sheeran-ness that you're hearing. Is it the lyrics? That song is relatively tender, so I get it from an emotion point of view. And I'll hear Ed Sheeran do anything, so I'm open to it like you are, Kyle. Haha.

Fall Out Boy has moved away from those wordy titles, but that hasn't been a thing for them since they got back together in 2013. That was SO TRENDY in the mid-2000s. The horror of those song titles. The most disgusting FOB song title for me though was "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs." Gross, gross, gross.

And to be fully open, since I don't like Fall Out Boy all that much, this is the first album of theirs I've heard in full. I wish I could say I'm ashamed and maybe I am because to be a comprehensive reviewer I should have gone back, but I didn't care to do that to myself. I will say I like "Uma Thurman" more than any other Fall Out Boy single, though. 

CC: I'm not exactly sure why I pictured Ed Sheeran performing the song, to be honest, but I think it has to do with the momentum/pacing of the song. I can just imagine it stripped down on an acoustic guitar with his accented vocals all over it. The lyrics also fit Sheeran's style. Who knows, maybe he'll cover it randomly one day!

I also haven't been actively consuming FOB music over the years, but I think that AB/AP fits pretty well within the spectrum of what they've done before as far as style and structure.

So are you basically saying this album is more of the same but taken with a different approach? 

KD: Yes, essentially. That's how I feel about it. It sounds very similar to all of their past material to me. 

CM: You're OK for having listened to FOB in the past. I actually bought the Simple Plan album. That's legitimately shameful to say in 2015. Meanwhile, Fall Out Boy is fine, somehow. TIME IS WEIRD.

And that's interesting that their sound hasn't evolved over the last 10-odd years. And I don't know if that's fully true. I feel like Fall Out Boy has gotten a little more industrial, definitely more mature. And you can't say American Beauty/American Psycho isn't without risks. Even if the song structure is the same, the use of sampling is really, truly interesting. And thematically, it's more mature than, say, "Sugar, We're Going Down."

FINAL THOUGHTS

CC: AB/AP was an ambitious effort that showed the band experimenting with new ways construct a song. Overall, it maintained the sound I expected from the band. There were details and choices they made that I found interesting, but I don't think it's an album I'll end up revisiting. That said, I think Fall Out Boy fans will be happy with this effort.

CM: I feel like the experiments worked for Fall Out Boy on American Beauty/American Psycho. The band is continuing to add new layers to its sounds and expanding what "rock 'n' roll" feasibly can be in 2015. I'm not sure if this is FOB's most accessible effort to date, but I do think that it's the band's most interesting. 

KD: American Beauty/American Psycho is an album that I think fans are going to dig. For me, it just didn't do it. While there were certain elements that I found to be pretty interesting, in the end it just ended up sounding like the same thing they've been doing for a little while now. Though they have shorter song titles... so that's a win. 

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