Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fall Out Boy bails on alt-rock

Posted By on 03.05.13 at 02:17 PM

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I've mentioned before what a weird place the Hot 100 has become, with country artists rubbing elbows with European arena techno producers and songs from commercials competing against songs from Internet memes. But amidst all of the futuristic rap music and earnestly old-timey folk pop you see very little in the way of alternative rock in the original, 1990s sense of the term, meaning aggressive but melodic guitar rock with at least a vague suggestion of punkish edge. Although it was a regular presence on the pop charts for roughly a decade and a half after Nirvana kicked open the doors, interest in what we might semi-ironically call "traditional" alt rock is in short supply right now.

Fall Out Boy was one of the last groups that turned success in the punk scene into legitimate mainstream superstardom, and with the end of an extended hiatus that they started in 2009 they have become one of the handful of old-school alt rock bands that are currently capable of generating enough buzz to crack the Hot 100. Their new single, which they've given the typically verbose title "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)," entered the charts three weeks ago at number 26, before diving to 60 the next. Right now it's at 56. In terms of comeback singles its chart performance isn't very noteworthy, but its lack of resemblance to the group's past successes is.

By the time Fall Out Boy went on hiatus its members were clearly over the emo pop punk sound they'd become known for. Before their break they had already started incorporating a significant amount of hip-hop into the mix, and were one of the first major bands to release a rap-style mixtape prior to their last album, 2008's Folie a Deux. "My Songs" has some traces of the old FOB sound (mostly in the chunky, palm-muted guitars on the verses and the lead guitar countermelody on the chorus) but it's mostly a weird mashup of Kanye-style rap music and the kind of glossy pop R&B that singer Patrick Stump explored on his 2011 solo album Soul Punk, with an unexpected nod to Sunset Strip glam metal in Stump's wild falsetto.

Alt rock's plunge—and the downward trending of rock 'n' roll in general—probably has a lot to do with the young musicians coming up now who grew up worshipping rap producers that came to music via a cracked copy of Fruity Loops rather than a cheap Stratocaster knockoff. Right now there are far more cool rappers than there are cool rock stars, and in Fall Out Boy's case it seems like even the rock stars we have left feel the same way. It says a lot that in the video for the song the representative of sexy, stylized anarchy isn't a punk kid but ascendant superstar rapper 2 Chainz. FOB's next album comes out in April and is called Save Rock and Roll. Presumably the title is meant to be ironic.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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