The cheerleader who opens Fall Out Boy's new album, "Infinity on High," is none other than the president of the band's record label. Jay-Z's brief but symbolic appearance -- calling out the haters on a lead track saddled with the short but evocative title "Thriller," for Pete's sake -- officially christens Fall Out Boy's swift, fabulous, and (many would argue) unlikely rise from suburban emo kids to pop-punk superstars.
That sort of rocket ride rarely comes without growing pains, and "Infinity on High," the band's second album for Island Records, is no exception. Luckily, pain is Fall Out Boy's favorite subject after Fall Out Boy. Bad romance was the irritant in FOB's breakout hit, "Sugar We're Going Down." On the new single "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," it's niche marketing in the music business. Mall rats will be forgiven if they can't relate as well to the new material. The question is, will Fall Out Boy?
Still, anthems are plenty on "Infinity on High," in stores today, and odds are good the fans are so well versed in bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz's pun-saturated, self-referential verbiage that they'll simply surrender -- as they should -- to the familiar burly riffs and candied hooks. Neal Avron, who was at the helm of 2005's multiplatinum "From Under the Cork Tree," has ornamented the sugar-metal rush with a safe smattering of embellishments. On "Hum Hallelujah," a gang of dudes echoes the chorus in Leonard Cohen's 1985 beauty "Hallelujah." Foot-stomping funk rhythms alternate with punk-rock double-time on "This Ain't a Scene. . .," sending the song back and forth between the mosh pit and the dance floor.
Not as successful is FOB's foray into major-seven chords on the simpering soft-rocker "Golden." Frontman Patrick Stump sings it (and everything else) with marvelous agility and vitality, but the song is a deadly poor fit.
FOB hired R&B maestro Babyface to produce two tracks, and the forceful brass and strings arrangement that opens "Thnks fr th Mmrs" promises a provocative stylistic collision. But the song quickly resorts to heavy guitars and catchy choruses. Likewise, "I'm Like a Lawyer With the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)" swings, briefly, and then swaggers, sweetly.
Oh, but Fall Out Boy swaggers sweetly. Snotty gems such as "The Take Over, the Breaks Over," "Don't You Know Who I Think I Am," "Bang the Doldrums," and the epic album closer, "I've Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers" indulge a young band's clever whims so persuasively (and, no doubt, lucratively) even Jay-Z wants to join in the fun.