Today marks the tenth anniversary of Fall Out Boy’s third studio album, Infinity on High. Fall Out Boy had made a name for themselves after the wild success of From Under the Cork Tree. That album had won awards and gone double platinum, singles “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” saw a ton of mainstream radio play, and the band had even made two guest appearances on the WB’s One Tree Hill. Considering their success, the band was in a very different place when creating Infinity on High then when they recorded From Under the Cork Tree–and it shows.
Throughout their tenure on the music scene, Fall Out Boy’s evolution and growth as artists has always been obvious when looking at each album. Infinity on High is no exception. With this third album, Fall Out Boy explored new musical influences as well as integrated new instruments like piano, violin, and a brass section, none of which had been featured on their previous works. The new instrumentation and sound added a new complexity to Fall Out Boy’s signature emo angst and lyrical calisthenics, earning them a bit more cred among music critics at the time.
Infinity on High serves as a direct response to the group’s mainstream success, an idea they make plain on the opening track “Thriller.” Jay-Z (yes, Jay-Z) opens the track and introduces the album with, “Yeah, what you critics say would never happen/We dedicate this album to anybody people said couldn’t make it/To the fans that held us down til everybody came around/Welcome, it’s here.” The song continues in a similar vein, throwing their success in the faces of their detractors while thanking their fans for the dedication they’ve shown throughout the years. It’s also a promise that fame won’t change the band themselves. “Crowds are won and lost and won again/But our hearts beat for the die-hards,” lead singer Patrick Stump sings.
“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” continues this sentiment in a slightly more aggressive fashion. This first single from the album likens the 2007 music scene to an arms race, with people trying harder to be popular than to do things that are right for them. “There may be other songs on the record that would make bigger radio hits, but this one has the right message,” Pete Wentz told Rolling Stone at the time.
The experimentation in sound varies greatly with Infinity on High. Third single “The Take Over, The Breaks Over” successfully pulls in a classic rock vibe. One of the most unique songs on the album is “You’re Crashing, But You’re No Wave,” the only story song on the album, and–according to that same interview with Rolling Stone–the first time the band delves into politics with their music. Kicking off with a heavy guitar intro, “You’re Crashing, But You’re No Wave” tells the story of the rigged Chicago trial of African-American civil rights activist Fred Hampton. Besides the unique subject matter, this track stands out for including a gospel choir.
This is the first time we see a softer sound from Fall Out Boy as well, exempting a past EP that featured acoustic renditions of songs like “Grand Theft Autumn.” “The (After) Life of the Party” is a gorgeous, softer song about wanting something so badly you leave yourself vulnerable. Their pop emo tracks were always known for their angst, but tended to fall on the angry side rather than the sad. This track marks a more emotional, vulnerable approach. “I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)” is a softer, R&B-inspired love song produced by Babyface. “Golden” is a darker song that marks the first time Fall Out Boy does a song that only features piano and vocals–something that they continue to incorporate into their albums today.
Fall Out Boy was careful not to break too much away from their earlier styles–just look at songs like “Hum Hallelujah,” “Thnks fr th Mmrs,” and “Bang the Doldrums.” These songs may have a slightly brighter, cleaner sound that tracks off of Take This to Your Grave and From Under the Cork Tree, but they’re certainly their spiritual successors. They focus on relationship angst and meta comments about songwriting for which Pete Wentz became known. “One day we’ll get nostalgic for disaster…I could write it better than you ever felt it,” Stump sings on “Hum Hallelujah.” Pop-emo standard “Thnks fr th Mmrs” is probably the most recognizable single from this album, one that still finds airplay to this day.
The best thing about Fall Out Boy is their ability to grow and change as artists without losing their signature sound. Truly, Infinity on High is the first time they proved this; they were able to experiment and incorporate new influences without losing their core sound. Expanding into a select few slower, softer songs made the album more dynamic than its predecessors, while exploring different topics lyrically proved they weren’t just a one-note band with a lot of angst while promising their fans that they weren’t going anywhere–they were merely growing.