Fall Out Boy’s Folie à Deux 10 Years On
If the fact of Fall Out Boy’s fourth studio album turning ten doesn’t make you feel old, you’re probably afflicted by Peter Pan Syndrome. In fairness, the passage of time is hard to believe; especially since the band’s men-children provide prima facie evidence of their everlasting youth anytime they appear in public, so closely do they resemble the fresh-faced twentysomethings who rose to prominence in the mid ’00s.
Although 2008’s Folie à Deux represented a commercial stutter in their overall career arc, three consecutive Billboard No. 1 albums – starting with 2013’s Save Rock and Roll – have restored them to their status as mainstream pop punk statesmen. Which seems odd to me, because while the latter triad featured some undeniable high points, none came close to matching Folie à Deux’s irresistible blend of grand-sounding anthems and startlingly propulsive pop songs.
Shared psychosis and mass hysteria
If Infinity on High had been a bright bomb of angst-filled, stadium-sized singles, Folie à Deux was a patchwork of slickly produced, slow-burning classics: an album rich in harmonic textures and flourishes, lush guitar work and breezy arrangements, stylistically inventive from first song to last.
Not that you’d know it from the subsequent tour. “Touring on Folie was like being the last act at the vaudeville show,” remembered Patrick Stump in 2009. “We were rotten vegetable targets in Clandestine hoods.”
One of the main reasons Folie suffered was that it followed the two-million selling Infinity, an album which more obviously achieved the band’s raison d’être: to connect with as many listeners as possible, both the damaged and dysfunctional souls who’d gravitated towards their formative ‘emo’ sound and those who simply appreciated adrenaline-pumping tunes that bestrode rock, pop and punk. It’s never easy to follow a hit.
Thanks for the memories
A brief note, firstly, on my own relationship to the record. This is germane because, to borrow a quote, “our musical heroes record our favourite albums but we are the ones who shape them as we append indelible memories: a beach bonfire; a rain-lashed road trip; a stolen kiss; a late night water fight.”
Sure, I love Folie à Deux for what it is – but as with any album, I’ve grafted my own memories to it. Memories of picking it up in an Australian record shop in 2008, seeing out my final year as a teenager travelling down the east coast, drinking, swimming and generally having a ball. In a sense it’s the soundtrack of that time period, an effervescent inventory of upbeat sonic snapshots made into memories.
The bizarrely-named Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes opens the album, Stump crooning one of many great lines to come as a funeral organ plays in the background: ‘I’m coming apart at the seams, pitching myself for leads in other people’s dreams…’ A somber note, to be sure, but it soon evolves into a joyous plea to ‘detox just to retox’ before the belted-out, self-directed caution ‘nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy!’
The celebrity-bashing I Don’t Care commences with a typically challenging Wentz lyric (‘Say my name and his in the same breath, I dare you to say they taste the same’) before accelerating towards a mammoth chorus over slashing guitars. Although Stump bemoaned the disastrous Folie tour, he couldn’t have been happier with the written material provided by his co-frontman. “[Pete] totally outdid himself on this record,” he told MTV at the time. “He doesn’t even know how good his lyrics are here.”
Among the couplets he was referring to was this gem from I Don’t Care: ‘I’m the oracle in my chest, let the guitar scream like a fascist / Sweat it out, shut your mouth, free love on the streets but / In reality it ain’t that cheap now.’
Lightning strikes twice
Married to a combination of sunny pop melodies (the soaring ‘whoa oh oh’ of She’s My Winona), cynical sing-alongs (American Suitehearts), elegiac piano ballads (What a Catch, Donnie) and bellowing pop-rock numbers (Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown, Coffee’s for Closers, 27), these winning lyrics were a major part of what made Folie à Deux such a brilliant and audacious record. This was the sound of Fall Out Boy growing up and branching out, discarding the baggage of the recent past and announcing to the world – as on Headfirst Slide – ‘I don’t just want to be a footnote in someone else’s happiness.’
Where the preceding albums had plenty of strut, Folie had the lyrical and musical maturity to go with it, all without sacrificing the revolving door of momentous, emotionally-charged songs. Or the occasional smart-ass comment, as on the thunderous Duran Duran-esque Tiffany Blews: ‘I’m not a crybaby, I’m the crybaby.’
There is no lag or letdown as Folie à Deux nears its completion: the album closes with Benzedrine anthem and Brendon Urie duet 20 Dollar Nose Bleed, featuring a clear dig at outgoing President Bush; the powerful, purgative West Coast Smoker (‘Oh hell yes, I’m a nervous wreck / Oh hell yes, the drugs just make me reset’); and the enigmatic, soulful Pavlove, with contains perhaps the single best lyric on the album: ‘I’m the invisible man who can’t stop staring at the mirror.’
After Infinity saw them conjure lightning, the quartet trapped it in a bottle on Folie à Deux. It’s a rousing, sometimes dizzying symphony dense with complexly layered songs that only get better with age. A special album whose sound and spirit is etched in 2008 and yet strangely timeless.
Words by Ronnie McCluskey