Emo-pop kings Fall Out Boy used TRL and MySpace as effectively as anyone to grow their fanbase, resulting in the massive success of 2005’s From Under The Cork Tree. But the kids are fickle, and in the time it takes to approve their friend requests, they’ve already moved on to Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance. Fall Out Boy recognizes this and makes light of it in “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,” an unexpectedly funky battle cry that likens the quest for respect and fame to a combat situation. It’s the new Cold War, and it’s being fought by sensitive musicians in tight pants. But Infinity On High is good enough that Fall Out Boy have no reason to feel threatened.
The opening track “Thriller” (yes, the title is a nod to Michael Jackson) is an autobiographical recap of the last two years, with lyrics referencing the group’s own mediocre CD reviews and subsequent rise to superstar-headlining act: “Last summer we took threes across the board, but by fall we were a cover story.” Featuring a crunching, emo-fied knockoff of the riff from Metallica’s “One” and a cameo appearance by label boss Jay-Z, the song is Fall Out Boy’s most direct shout-out to its supporters: “Crowds are won and lost and won again/But our hearts beat for the diehards.”
In a move so ridiculous that it’s inspired, the band brought in long-lost R&B mastermind Babyface to produce two songs, which are among the best on the album. “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” has smash hit potential, with darker, string-heavy verses giving way to a signature FOB pop-punk chorus. And though it drifts dangerously close to adult contemporary territory, “I’m Like A Lawyer With The Way I’m Always Trying To Get You Off” succeeds due to singer Patrick Stump’s soaring vocal hook. Despite the title, it’s about as close to a love song as you’ll get from this band, a rare moment of tenderness among songs about blog entries, guest lists, and therapy sessions.
The mistakes come when they get a little too ambitious. “I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Fingers” takes a stab at a more theatrical sound, adding piano and horns to the mix, but they don’t handle that style quite as well as Panic! At The Disco. And the dull ballad “Golden” is so melodramatic (“I saw God cry in the reflection of my enemies”) you have to wonder if they’re being sincere or just trying to punk listeners. “Hum Hallelujah” is another radio-ready song that finds the band singing a few bars of the classic ballad “Hallelujah.” It’s a nice touch but it also feels a bit gratuitous, as if it was done mainly because someone decided it would be cool to see “Written by Fall Out Boy and Leonard Cohen” in the liner notes.
But the band’s unusual songwriting method generally works, with publicity-whore bassist Pete Wentz again providing the lyrical content, and the reserved, media-shy Stump creating most of the music. Wentz’s writing is alternately insecure and narcissistic, which makes for some interesting lines (“We’re the new face of failure/Prettier and younger but not any better off”), but Stump’s melodies are what shape the hit singles. Case in point: The chorus of “Bang The Doldrums” is nothing more than “Yo-ho-ho, woah-oh,” but it’s so catchy Stump is almost daring you to try not to sing along. His surprisingly soulful tenor makes it easier to overlook the bad puns Wentz writes for him. “The bandwagon’s full/Please catch another,” Stump sings in “This Ain’t A Scene,” but you know he doesn’t really mean it. This bandwagon is about to get a whole lot more crowded.