I believe Infinity on High to be Fall Out Boy’s best album, but there’s plenty of room for debate. What’s not up for debate is the fact that the scene will never again see the heights it reached by the time the album released.
Between the moment “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” hit radio airwaves in 2005 and the opening notes of “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” first graced our speakers in early 2007, things had changed. Underoath had a gold record. Gym Class Heroes were in regular rotation on top 40 radio. Cartel had signed on for an MTV reality show. Panic! at the Disco had graced the cover of Rolling Stone. A few months later, Paramore would crash the party and go platinum.
To say that the stakes were high for Fall Out Boy leading up to the release of Infinity on High would be putting it lightly. With From Under the Cork Tree, the band had fallen backwards into unlikely stardom, effectively dragging an entire scene into the spotlight with them. Was Fall Out Boy’s success a flash in the pan, or were they truly an outlier – a band with legs that could carry them far beyond the confines of the Warped Tour bubble?
Infinity on High did not disappoint, and in hindsight, it’s easy to look back at the album as the moment that Fall Out Boy lifted the title belt as the clear winner of the very competition they inadvertently started.
If you’re like me, you can easily recall certain moments outside of the music itself that stick out in your mind. The shock of hearing Jay-Z’s voice open the album, declaring the band’s arrival on the big stage. Walking into a Circuit City and seeing the video for “This Ain’t a Scene” playing on every TV screen in the store. Finding the band on the cover of magazines and tabloids in every check out line, exuding an air of emo indifference.
Ironically, it was this very fame and the suffocation it breeds that led Pete Wentz to unleash his pen in retaliation. Wentz had already cemented himself as a narcissistic, silver-tongued lyricist before Infinity, but decided to turn his attention away from perpetual heartbreak and self-destruction and toward critics, haters, the scene and even himself.
Wentz flashes his pessimism on “The Take Over, The Breaks Over” with, “They say your head can be a prison, then these are just conjugal visits / People will dissect us till this doesn’t mean a thing anymore”. Moments later on “This Ain’t a Scene”, he dismisses the late arrivals: “This bandwagon’s full / Please, catch another”.
With the release of Infinity, the days of starry-eyed Chicago boys with dreams of a breakthrough would forever be over. The consequences of those achievements proved to be even more compelling. Wentz’s ability to communicate the resulting pain in between his rapid cocksure gunfire remains both legendary and poignant in lines like, “The only thing I haven’t done yet is die / And it’s me and my plus one at the afterlife” and “I sing the blues and swallow them, too”.
With lyrics this meaty and full of double meanings and unexpected turns of phrase, translation into digestible bites would have been nearly impossible had Patrick Stump not come into his own at just the right moment. On Infinity, Stump makes his first major transition from pop punk crooner to pop star diva, taking full advantage of his vocal range. His high notes are higher, his runs are more daring, his melodies are tighter. With the band now fully incorporating R&B, pop and soul elements, it provided the perfect platform for a star to appear right before our very eyes.
As a result, the band’s most unrelatable album became a smashing success on the charts. Half victory lap around the ring, half vicious rebuttal to naysayers, Infinity on High succeeded amidst Wentz’s snark thanks to a sonically diverse experience that elevated the band out of the pop punk mire. Even so, early signs of the band’s crash landing hiatus could be seen on the horizon, with Stump and Wentz fighting for the proverbial spotlight with drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman watching from the sidelines.
As clear as the warning signs were, it’s also obvious that this period of the band’s career made their later comeback possible. Fall Out Boy’s 2013 rebirth and subsequent return to the top of the charts speaks volumes to the clout the band has earned. Following the events of 2007, the scene at large would begin to descend back to its original home in the underground with only a few stars surving the oversaturation.
A decade later, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a band from our scene rising to fame as quickly and powerfully as Fall Out Boy. Could another band be this divisive? Be this willing and able to transform? Have this much longevity? Love them or hate them, Fall Out Boy are still the undisputed champions of a short-lived arms race, with Infinity on High standing as a monument to a time when the sky was the limit. Long live the car crash hearts.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.