See Fall Out Boy perform their We Didn’t Start The Fire cover at the MTV VMAs
Fall Out Boy hit last night’s 2023 MTV Video Music Awards for a heated performance of their Billy Joel-approved cover of We Didn’t Start The Fire.
Fall Out Boy’s journey from plucky emo underdogs to one of the biggest acts on the planet is surely one of the greatest in modern rock. Named after an obscure supporting character from The Simpsons (the sidekick to Radioactive Man), and having been together for over two decades now, Fall Out Boy came together from the fringes of the Chicago’s hardcore punk scene and have scarcely looked back since.
With extrovert bassist Pete Wentz proving the perfect foil to unusually shy vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, while second six-stringer Joe Trohman and prolific drummer Andy Hurley (a 2003 conscript) kept energy levels high, Fall Out Boy’s emotional pop-punk was originally a sugary counterpoint to the grit and gasoline of those players’ other outfits. Caught up in the mid-2000s emo groundswell, however, and dropping two genre-defining albums in 2003’s Take This To Your Grave and 2005’s From Under The Cork Tree, superstardom didn’t take long to come calling.
In the present day, their slick pop hooks and celebrity status feel a million miles removed from the sweaty basements in which the band emerged, but across seven albums – bridging a hiatus from 2009 to 2013 – there has always remained the same outsider spirit and playful quirkiness with which they first set out. The colourful cross-section of this Top 20 is Technicolour proof of that.
Thnks fr th mmrs, guys. Here’s to another 20 years on top of the world…
From slack-jawed opener Young And Menace to cracking closer Bishops Knife Trick, Fall Out Boy’s seventh LP M A N I A is the sound of superstars stopping for a second to stretch their wings and ask, ‘How the hell did we get this far?!’ Banging third single The Last Of The Real Ones creaks at the seams with outrageous shock and awe as they surf a lilting piano riff into a pulsing pop-rock masterclass, full of hip-swivelling rhythms and earnest romance. Its music video, in which Pete is attacked with a shovel by malevolent llamas, is a stone-cold classic.
By Fall Out Boy’s fourth album (and last before their hiatus) Folie À Deux, there was a sense that they had lost touch with the strident sound with which they’d taken over the world. Where that sometimes led to songs feeling flatter than before, it also saw them indulge their quirkiest whims. Reportedly written before 2007’s Infinity On High, second single America’s Suitehearts is the sound of the band getting experimental, from Patrick’s puff-chested delivery and that borderline nonsensical title pun to the Who Framed Roger Rabbit-inspired music video.
One of Fall Out Boy’s earliest compositions (alongside Tell That Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today and Grand Theft Autumn), Dead On Arrival was initially intended for a split EP with fellow Chicago punks 505 Plan, but ended up as the lead single to debut LP Take This To Your Grave. In its punchiness and urgent tempo, there are shades of the hardcore scene from which they emerged but, full of emo attitude, heart-rending melodies and fist-pumping pop-punk hooks, these 195 seconds were ironic proof that their beating heart was just getting started. No defibrillator required.
Returning after four years away, there was a knowing audacity in the title to Fall Out Boy’s fifth album Save Rock And Roll. The album’s stirring title-track proved they had the courage of their convictions, too. A massive-sounding experimental pop song geared squarely at headline sets in stadia, its slow-clap tempos, call-backs to earlier compositions, and defiantly simplistic lyrics (‘Oh no, we won't go / ’Cause we don't know how to quit, no, no’) were the sound of a band coming to terms with their own mainstream-crashing capabilities. And that’s before we mention the glorious cameo appearance from English pop god Elton John.
Referencing two of the defining works of modern American fiction in its title (American Beauty is also a 1970 Grateful Dead album), Fall Out Boy’s sixth record wears its fascination with pop culture – and the idea that as perfect as things might seem on the surface, they could well be rotten underneath – on its sleeve. Collaborating with French DJ/producer SebastiAn and sampling Mötley Crüe's 1981 classic Too Fast For Love, the album’s title-track is a wilfully weird, irresistibly bouncy little number full of subtle quirks and massive pop hooks. Cue some Patrick-Bateman-in-a-raincoat dance moves…
Arguably the finest throwback to their hardcore beginnings, the tumbledown tempos and sporadic gang vocals of the 11th track from Take This To Your Grave is the sound of FOB high on their own youthful electricity. With a title like Reinventing The Wheel To Run Myself Over, there’s obviously a whole lot of hangdog heart on display, too, and prototypical spring-loaded sounds that would become synonymous with the scene they’d help make massive. ‘I could walk this fine line between elation and success,’ Patrick declares in the opening line. ‘We all know which way I'm going to strike the stake between my chest.’
Our second pick from the M A N I A era is inexplicably-capitalised fourth single HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T. Coloured brightly with shades of Latino crackle and reggae cool, it’s both a showcase of Fall Out Boy’s chart-crushing pop confidence in 2018, and a tribute to the mindset that got them to this point by way of sunbeaten love-song lyrics. ‘You were the only one that even kinda came close,’ Patrick sings. ‘I just pinch myself, no longer comatose.’ The Brendan Walter / Mel Soria-directed music video, which sees the band play in the middle of a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival, is another daringly stylised stand-out.
‘Show me, show me, show me a starry-eyed kid / I, I, I will break his jaw…’ There’s a shot of real aggro in the opening line to this banging bonus track from the …Cork Tree era, which fizzles like an electric shock through the whole 180-second run. Sounding like FOB’s answer to the edginess and swagger of My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, it perhaps didn’t make the main tracklist because the comparisons feel almost too immediate. It’s a template that fits the Chicago troupe surprisingly well, though, and the flashes of their own pop genius ensure no-one’s forgetting which emo heroes we’re listening to here.
An underrated modern Disney classic, Big Hero 6 saw the House Of Mouse adapting the Marvel comic of the same name into a visually and thematically daring film about indomitability, self-belief and one weirdly cuddly battle robot. When it came to soundtracking the pivotal scene in which the movie’s genius protagonists take on machine-tooled brawn to match their formidable brains, Fall Out Boy were the obvious choice. Welding playful R&B samples and flashes of autotune to a superpowered chorus (‘We could be immortals’), their cut brilliantly fit the bill.
Many fans might remember this …Cork Tree hit more for its gleefully OTT music video than the song itself. Featuring a battle with the band pitted against a group of sharply-dressed vampires, and co-starring Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith of Panic! At The Disco, William Beckett and Michael Carden of The Academy Is… and Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes, the near-seven-minute promo really is something – but the song’s heartfelt tale of unrequited love deserves recognition on its own forlorn terms, too. That title is a reference to teen movie legend John Hughes, whose films all took place in FOB’s native Chicago, and the levels of bittersweet angst more than match up.
Saturdays are brilliant, aren’t they? Here’s a song to celebrate. When Patrick first wrote the third single from Take This To Your Grave, he kept it from his bandmates, thinking that no-one would really like it. Eventually sitting down with Pete, the pair fleshed it out into an early trademark – and the first FOB song on which Pete screams. ‘Me and Pete / In the wake of Saturday,’ Patrick sings, full of hope and wondrous foresight. ‘Saturday / When these open doors were open-ended.’ The music video, where Patrick stars as a detective on the trail of a serial killer played by Pete, but the two end up as two sides of the same personality, feels particularly fitting.
Named after the mythical bird that would resurrect itself from a death pyre every 500 years, the first track on Save Rock And Roll feels like an anthem to FOB’s return – even bigger and hungrier than before – from a few years in the wilderness. ‘Hey young blood, doesn't it feel like our time is running out?’ Patrick asks either their earlier selves or the wave of imitators who followed in their wake. ‘I'm gonna change you like a remix / Then I'll raise you like a phoenix.’ Leaving longtime producer Neal Avron for Butch Walker (who co-produced the Infinity On High banger Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?) this feels emblematic of the poppy slickness of their post-2010 era.
The lead single from Folie À Deux was also its most immediately memorable track. Beyond the swinging riffs and colossal pop-rock hooks, however, I Don’t Care is also one of the band’s most gleefully barbed compositions. Described by Pete as a “narcissist’s anthem” for the YouTube generation, it spearheads the album’s dissection of pop culture superficiality while sprinkling in wry parallels with the classic asshole rock’n’roll archetype. That mega-chorus (‘I don't care what you think / As long as it's about me / The best of us can find happiness, in misery’) still feels like one of FOB’s defining moments.
When Fall Out Boy returned from hiatus, there was no long lead in. Instead, February 4, 2013 saw the announcement of intrepidly-titled fifth LP Save Rock And Roll and the release of this absolutely massive single. "When we were kids the only thing that got us through most days was music," read their statement. "It's why we started Fall Out Boy in the first place.” Combining the playfulness and angsty attitude of their earliest work (the song was originally a demo for From Under the Cork Tree) with chart-smashing high production and waves of stadium-seeking ‘woah-oh’s, it became a template for how they would move forward.
The third single from American Beauty / American Psycho is an underrated thumper that lives on its own exuberance. Jam-packed with pop culture references, the title is a nod to Pete’s film star crush (his other, Winona Ryder was already name-checked in 2008’s She’s My Winona), while the guitar lick is taken straight from the opening credits to ’60s sitcom The Munsters. It’s the sense of freewheeling momentum, hip-hop swagger and movie star cool that really takes it to the next level, though. The music video – based around a fan who wins the right to be the band’s personal assistant for 24 hours – is an absolute riot, featuring cameos from stars as varied as Big Sean, Brendon Urie, Action Bronson, Big Data and MAX. Uma herself reportedly thought the song was “cute”.
‘I am an arms dealer / Fitting you with weapons in the form of words / And don't really care which side wins / Long as the room keeps singing / That's just the business I'm in.’ By 2007, the emo / pop-punk genre had gone from sweaty underground concern to one of the biggest in all of music, with FOB and My Chemical Romance leading the way while superstars of the future like Paramore and Panic! At The Disco found a foothold, too. The lead single from third album Infinity On High finds the boys reckoning on the madness of that explosion and the increasingly-competitive nature of a once-familial scene over the ebb and flow of one of their most powerful compositions. Alan Ferguson’s fast-moving music video confirms they were still having as much fun as ever, mind, poking fun at everything from indulgent celebrity lifestyles to Pete’s infamous leaked semi-nudes.
Having built up a faithful hardcore following on Take This To Your Grave, there were high hopes for Fall Out Boy’s major label debut From Under The Cork Tree. Lead single Sugar, We’re Goin Down lived up to them spectacularly. With spring-loaded pop-punk riffs and lyrics as seethingly poetic as any in third wave emo (‘I’m just a notch in your bedpost but you're just a line in a song’), FOB captured the hearts of a whole generation of rock fans and spring-boarded themselves straight into the big leagues. Despite initial label concerns that that wordy chorus (‘We're going down, down in an earlier round / And Sugar, we're going down swinging / I'll be your number one with a bullet / A loaded god complex, cock it and pull it’) mightn’t make for a good promo, the song was rated 4x platinum in America in 2013. More than we bargained for, indeed.
With its vowel-deficient title made out in the style of a throwaway text message, and tale of a relationship where real romance has faded away to leave only the appeal of casual sex, the second single proper from Infinity On High was fascinated by the addictiveness of surface-level connection. Produced by R&B supremo Babyface and boasting a music video starring Kim Kardashian (alongside a host of chimps), they play up the sheen, but there’s plenty of substance in that pulsating beat and one of the hookiest rock choruses of their career. Those lines ‘One night and one more time / Thanks for the memories / Even though they weren't so great’ were all about the inherent disappointment that comes with giving in to FOMO, but Fall Out Boy once again refused to let us down.
‘Where is your boy tonight / I hope he is a gentleman / And maybe he won't find out what I know / You were the last good thing about this part of town…’ The second single and biggest hit from Fall Out Boy’s debut LP doesn’t take long in ticking off the pop-punk / emo cliches. Yearning for a girl you’ll never have? Check. Sassy hangdog wordplay? Check. Hating your hometown? Oh, you better believe it. Afloat with faith that things will get better, however, while stacking one of Patrick’s greatest ever vocal performances on top of a deceptively weighty instrumental, Grand Theft Autumn is ultimately proof that these lads were born to be leaders, not followers.
Given their evolution from emo underdogs to globe-straddling pop superstars, it’s nigh on impossible to select a top Fall Out Boy song that’s really an umbrella representation of what they’re all about. The second single taken off From Under The Cork Tree gets pretty damn close, though. Dialling back the heartwrought emo and jamming in some massive pop hooks (Patrick identified David Bowie’s Modern Love as a key influence), Dance, Dance sounds like the boys we used to know becoming the men we do today. From its throbbing main riff to that exhilarating chorus, it remains just as joyous, defiant, and, er, downright danceable 16 years on as it did on release. Alan Ferguson’s music video, which plays out like the climactic scene from one of those aforementioned John Hughes movies, and casts the band as losers with thick glasses and over-waxed hair, should be cringeworthy, but it’s actually one of the most unforgettable of this classic era. An absolute stomper.
Fall Out Boy hit last night’s 2023 MTV Video Music Awards for a heated performance of their Billy Joel-approved cover of We Didn’t Start The Fire.
Fall Out Boy are hitting the road with Jimmy Eat World, plus the likes of The Maine, Hot Mulligan and Daisy Grenade at select dates, for their So Much For (2our) Dust.
See Fall Out Boy bring out Gym Class Heroes’ Travie McCoy at the Queens, New York date of their So Much For (Tour) Dust for a couple of very special covers…
See Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump cover Nothing Compares 2 U in Atlanta last night, following the death of Sinéad O’Connor.
With Billy Joel seemingly not fancying doing his own updated follow-up to We Didn’t Start The Fire, the Piano Man is more than fine with Fall Out Boy’s recent effort…
Hear Paramore’s Hayley Williams on Castles Crumbling, and Fall Out Boy on Electric Touch – both taken from Taylor Swift’s just-released album Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
At the Los Angeles date of their incredible So Much For (Tour) Dust, Fall Out Boy dusted off a couple of never-before-played Infinity On High favourites…