Friday, February 9, 2007

Fall Out Boy- Infinity on High

What a difference two years make. When Fall Out Boy released From Under the Cork Tree in 2005, they were just another band making their major label debut. When the band released “Sugar We’re Going Down” that summer, Fall Out Boy went from a struggling mid-level band to the top tier of the mainstream music machine. Infinity on High shows a band trying to live up to their superstar name, but falls into many of the traps that plague modern music.

The album has a strong beginning. The opening track, “Thriller,” features a surprisingly good cameo from Jay-Z and some muscular guitar riffing. “The Takes Over, The Breaks Over” and “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s An Arms Race” are excellent pop songs, and contain the anthemic hooks the band is known for. The songs feature flourishes of electronic instrumentation, which gives them a kinetic energy. Unfortunately, the band is unable to keep up the pace.

Infinity on High starts to fall apart with “I’m Like a Lawyer,” the album’s fourth track. The song is catchy enough, but sounds like a Maroon 5 b-side, with lead singer Patrick Stump pretending to be Adam Levine. “Hum Hallelujah” starts off as an enjoyable slice of emo pop, but ends with an out of place female choir. A choir is bad enough, but when they start chanting Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” it becomes laughable. The first half of the album has flaws, but by the second half the flaws become gaping holes.

Fall Out Boy have been praised for their witty and self-deprecating lyrics, all of which are penned by bassist Pete Wentz. The praise has obviously gone to Wentz’s head, because the second half of Infinity on High contains some of the worst lyrics ever committed to tape. “Golden” is the worst of the bunch, a self-important, bloated, pretentious Coldplay ripoff. Lyrics like “I saw God cry in the reflection of my enemies,” are delivered without a trace of irony. Wentz probably wrote such lyrics in an effort to seem deep, but instead comes off as a shallow kid trying to sound smart.

After “Golden,” the album is unable to get back on track. Once pretentiousness rears its ugly head, it’s hard to take Wentz and company seriously. They attempt to go back to their roots with songs like “The Carpal Tunnel of Love,” but once a guy claims that he has seen God cry, it’s hard to believe he has relationship problems.

Infinity on High could have been a decent album. Fall Out Boy’s willingness to expand their sound is honorable, and they can write really great pop songs. While the group’s ambitions are honorable, they are what kill the album. Fall Out Boy became popular because they presented themselves as the ultimate underdogs. By adding unnecessary frills such as female choirs and string quartets, they have lost the element that made them so appealing in the first place. Fall Out Boy has reached their coveted place at the popular table, but they were more likable when they were playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Van Halen Reunites!

Van Halen is finally getting the respect they deserve. Nearly three decades after the release of their debut album, they are going to be inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. David Lee Roth, Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony will share the stage for the first time since 1996. The band is preparing for a tour this summer, with Eddie’s 15-year old son Wolfgang on bass.

There was a time where I would not have missed this show for the world. When I was 13, Van Halen ruled my life. I remember my friend Jeremy coming over to my house with his dad’s copy of Van Halen I. I could not believe what I was hearing. I had never heard anyone play guitar like that before. I had never heard a frontman with such personality, and I had never heard such a tight rhythm section. The band was perfect in every way. I bought a copy immediately.

The music was great, but it wasn’t the reason Van Halen became my favorite band. Van Halen was my favorite band because of the image they projected. To me, they came across as gods on Mount Olympus. Life was a giant wet t-shirt contest, and I went along for the ride. David Lee Roth was everything I wanted to be: He had long blond hair, he had abs, he looked awesome in leather pants, and most importantly he could get any woman on earth.

I listened to Van Halen I every week for about three years, supplemented with liberal amounts of 1984 and Women and Children First. Then I started to grow up, and my image of Van Halen as the perfect band began to break apart. David Lee Roth’s blond mane started to thin, and the spandex pants didn’t fit as well. Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen’s rhythm section wasn’t as exciting compared to Pantera’s wrecking crew of Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul. I watched Eddie destroy himself with alcohol and cigarettes. I listened to them less and less, until I barely listened to them at all.

A decade after I bought Van Halen I, my dream has come true. The band is going on tour with Roth. So why am I on the fence? I think it’s because a small part of me holds onto the image I once had. I’m afraid that if I go see them, the image of the conquering heroes of 1984 will fade forever. I really don’t want to lose that image.

Yes, Van Halen will take the stage once again this summer. They will look older, and they might not be as energetic as they were 23 years ago. But they will delve into their catalog of classic songs: “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” “Unchained,” “Hot For Teacher.” The crowd will be rabid, and Dave will say “Look at all the people here tonniiiigggttt!”

This time, I will be one of them.