Fall Out Boy
Folie à Deux
Island

2.5 out of 5 Stars

Pop-punk’s popularity is waning, and Fall Out Boy knows it. So Pete Wentz and company are trying to graduate from the genre they dominated a few years ago, abandoning ship with kindred acts like Panic at the Disco. The band’s new sound on Folie à Deux is grandiose yet amorphous, filling tracks to the brim with theatrical flair and restless experimentation. But the result is an over-stuffed turkey of an album that’s too invested in trying to please both old fans and new listeners at the same time. It shows that Fall Out Boy’s real strength is in wanton teen guitar pop, not the new arena alt-rock veneer they strive for here.

One thing hasn’t changed: Lead singer Patrick Stump still revels in the sound of his own voice. He savors every impassioned “whoa” and careless sigh, and his performances have grown ever more breathless and blustery to match the album’s self-important tone. The showmanship is to the album’s detriment — Stump drowns out the cameos that were supposed to sell the album in the first place. Where are Pharrell Williams and Lil’ Wayne? Even Elvis Costello is hard to distinguish from Stump on his token appearance (he sings only four lines).

Opening track “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” sets the stage with its organ-led intro and melodramatic lyrics like “no one wants to hear you sing about tragedy.” Its thunderous chords give way to lead single “I Don’t Care,” complete with narcissistic lyrics (“I don’t care what you think / as long as it’s about me”) and pentatonic swagger that make for a predictable but memorable cut. “America’s Suitehearts” stands out due to its tightly wound funk groove buffeted by angular guitars and a soulful tenor vocals à la Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, but suffers from stale lines like “I must confess / that I’m in love with my own sins.”

The obvious winner on the disc is lighter-waving “What a Catch, Donnie.” Stump’s balladeering reaches a surprising high on the track, where he tempers his hyperactive take on R&B vocal stylings. What’s most intriguing is how much the track reveals about the band itself; the second half is filled with quotations from its previous singles like “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” “Dance, Dance,” and “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s a Goddamn Arms Race.” The ease with which these lines fit together shows a certain cynicism — Fall Out Boy knows that, to some extent, its songs are interchangeable.

Folie à Deux is a curious album that’s stuck between the immature charm of earlier Fall Out Boy efforts like From Under the Cork Tree and an excitable impulse to strive toward musical adulthood. The inclusion of symphonic strings on “Donnie,” the organs on “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” and the horn blasts on “20 Dollar Nose Bleed” are merely superficial gestures that suggest a desire to “grow up.” If Stump developed his R&B melodicism beyond throw-away recognition and Wentz came up with a new bag of lyrical tricks, Fall Out Boy may become something more than just a clever joke. That has yet to happen.

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