In “This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race,” Patrick Stump starts off with, “I am an arms dealer/Fitting you with weapons in the form of words/And don't really care which side wins/As long as the room keeps singing/That's just the business I'm in." And for Fall Out Boy, for a while, that was true. It didn't really matter what they did; they were Fall Out freakin' Boy, gods of “the scene,” and they could do no wrong. When the time came when they actually lost their kings-amongst-men status, I'd say it was around Infinity on High, things got a little weird for the band for the next few years. Their die-hard fans weren't supporting them anymore, playing the infamous “sell out” card and finally, they decided to take a break from being Fall Out Boy. The results of this hiatus have been Save Rock and Roll and now, American Beauty/American Psycho, two albums that I don't think Fall Out Boy even thought they could ever pull off.
I think Fall Out Boy needed that break to really think about the music they wanted to make-- did they want to just keep trying to replicate Take This to Your Grave and From Under the Cork Tree or did they want to push themselves as artists and make music that experiments with different genres and ways of making music, regardless of what people say about it?
Luckily, it seems like they've chosen the latter. It works for them. American Beauty/American Psycho has also introduced a method of producing to the band that I think will continue in their process (since they utilize it so well): sampling. When it's done right, sampling can make the song better and change the entire fabric of the original song. This is why so many bands and artists try it.
Exhibit A on this record is “Uma Thurman.” It's probably the best song on the album besides their single, “Centuries,” that also samples a song in the bridge: Suzanne Vega's “Tom's Diner.” “Uma Thurman” was supposed to be a song that described “women in pop culture who were quirky, [that makes you] only crush on them harder,” according to Pete Wentz on their website, but then after using The Munsters tv show theme song in the chorus, it turned into an homage to Kill Bill and Thurman's character in the franchise, the Bride. “[P]eople kept saying 'oh cool, like Quentin Tarantino, cool' when we played it. We decided 'why don’t we kind of create this world around that?" Wentz further explains.
Oddly enough, the self-titled song is probably the weakest song on the album. “Jet Pack Blues” and “The Kids Aren't Alright” aren't necessarily mind-blowing either, but they'll do. Key tracks besides “Centuries” and “Uma Thurman” include “Novocaine,” “Fourth of July” and “Favorite Record."
I would say that Save Rock and Roll in general is a stronger record, just because it seems to flow better from song to song. Almost every song on American Beauty/American Psycho has a different mood and sound. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as a cohesive record, it sounds a little messy. It could have something to do with their heavy use of sampling on this record. Possibly with experience, their future albums will sound more connected.
The songs themselves, however, are strong for the most part, and like they say in “Centuries,” this record will be something to be remembered: “Some legends are told/Some turn to dust or to gold/But you will remember me/Remember me for centuries.”
This broad spectrum of music the band has decided to work with since their reunion has changed their sound, but they haven't lost the sound of “Dead on Arrival” or “Sugar, We're Goin' Down." When a band can keep the sound of their roots while growing and trying different things with their music, that's a successful band. That is a band that has progressed naturally as artists and wants to be creative– and isn't that why you want to write music in the first place? Not only for yourself, but also to use your creativity towards making something interesting? This is what Fall Out Boy has realized and American Beauty/American Psycho is hopefully one of many more records from them that are pushing boundaries and pushing their creative process.