- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

“Infinity on High”

Fall Out Boy

Island

Listeners seeking the same old Fall Out Boy on the pop-punkers’ latest, “Infinity on High,” may be startled to hear rapper and Def Jam impresario Jay Z’s voice opening the disc. They also might be surprised to learn that in addition to reuniting with producer Neal Avron, who helped mold the band’s 2005 effort, “From Under the Cork Tree,” into a noisy yet polished juggernaut, the team also conscripted R&B; maestro Babyface to shape a few tracks.

To be sure, “Infinity” is the group’s most eclectic and ambitious album to date. (It’s FOB’s fourth full-length and second on Island.) In addition to its hip-hop kiss on the opener, the disc flirts with ‘80s synth pop, ‘70s funk, Danny Elfman-esque orchestration and even Spanish guitar riffs — all a considerable distance from the band’s simpler, more punk-rooted beginnings in the Chicago suburbs.

For lyricist-bassist Pete Wentz, flirting, etc. (wink, wink) is all part of the game. This record may repackage FOB’s sound a bit, but at its core, all the band’s best elements are represented: Patrick Stump’s powerful belt; Mr. Wentz’s angsty yet clever lyrics; thrashy, layered guitars; and explosive drum cadences.

It’s pretty, seething, poppy and volatile all at once — much like FOB’s earlier work, but less strident, more radio-friendly and showcasing a lot more of Mr. Stump’s range.

In other words, If you didn’t like the “Total Request Live” champions before, you probably won’t like them now. On the flip side, both longtime and one-track-download fans will find plenty of reasons to nod their heads.

The record’s popular first single, “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” matches the furor of “Cork Tree’s” “Dance, Dance” as it confidently swaggers from bouncy strut to full-out, double-time frenzy. It’s one of the disc’s gems, as is “The Carpal Tunnel of Love,” which layers sustained vocal harmonies over thudding guitar riffs.

Slight tinkers with the group’s usual formula provide big payoffs in tracks such as the Killers-with-an-edge march “The Take Over, the Break’s Over,” while a few songs feel more influenced by the MTV audience that precipitated the band’s success (and bought more than 3 million copies of its last album) than the group’s own sentiment.

The syrupy “I’m Like a Lawyer With the Way I’m Always” is one such song, and it sounds tailor-made for an episode of “Laguna Beach.” (Blech.) Everybody takes a few false steps, though — right, Mr. Wentz? A solid showing on the whole, this record is sure to keep the Boy atop his pop-punk throne for a good while to come — even if the playful Mr. Wentz mused on the group’s last offering, “We’re only good for the latest trend.” (Something tells me he was being ironic.)

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