The Genius Of… Infinity on High by Fall Out Boy
FOB’s third record divided fans and critics when it arrived in 2007, but the passage of time has come to see it as one of the most vital albums of the second wave of pop-punk
Fall Out Boy performing at MTV’s Total Request Live as part of “Infinity Flight 206 With Fall Out Boy” in 2007. Image: Scott Gries/Getty Images
When you’re listing pop punk albums that break out from the confines of punk orthodoxy, and embrace the mainstream with ambition and boldness, Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High is likely somewhere near the top of that list.
The 2007 album encapsulated an era of pop-punk that saw the genre reach a wider audience than ever, complimenting punky riffs with shamelessly poppy vocals and overly long and somewhat confusing song titles.
It was Fall Out Boy’s ‘difficult third’ album, succeeding breakthrough record From Under the Cork Tree, and laying the groundwork for the much more warmly received Folie a Deux a year later, it is the portrait of band in transition from the angsty punkers they were to the more overtly pop crowd pleasers they’d become. While they didn’t always get it right, Infinity On High showcases an ambition to expand and develop who they are as musicians that would bear greater fruit later on.
Perhaps it’s only with hindsight that you can see what they were building towards, but at the time critics were not kind – with Punknews even labelling the record “the epitome of predictability”.
Billboard noted that Infinity On High saw the band drift “further from its hardcore punk roots to write increasingly accessible pop tunes”, and that’s not an unfair critique, if you can even call it such. The band abandoning their more sharp-edged sound was a repeated observation, with the NME remarking that “there ain’t a whole lot of hardcore” throughout the album.
Despite the lukewarm reception at the time, however, the years have been kind to Infinity On High – the record aged with grace, and is now considered a fan favourite amongst the Fall Out Boy obsessed.
Seasons Change but People Don’t
As much as contemporary reviews were quick to complain about the record’s lack of hardcore edge, opening track Thriller clearly didn’t get the memo. Guitarist Joe Trohman’s relentless right hand providing a chugging pulse that electrifies the track, and lights up similarly hardcore-adjacent tracks on the record like Carpal Tunnel of Love, You’re Crashing But You’re No Wave and G.I.N.A.S.F.S. among others.
The band themselves were having none of the critique of the album’s punk credentials, as guitarist and frontman Patrick Stump told The Aquarian at the time…“It’s one of those things where you get older as a band and you do your own thing, you know? The older Fall Out Boy elements, from the early records, are definitely there, and this album is an extension of that.
“There are a lot of different moods, altogether. We have the heaviest song we’ve ever written on the record, and the single, This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race is the funkiest thing we’ve ever done.”
Fame < Infamy is another track that shows Fall Out Boy’s growth as artists didn’t mean they had to compromise their vision – demonstrating some of the band’s most emotive and powerful guitar work to date. Its triplet guitar stabs syncopate effortlessly with the vocals, adding a counter-melodic venom to each line Stump spits out. It’s the rhythmic backbone that allows the song to build, pulsing throughout the track, guiding the singer to a triumphant crescendo.
Fall Out Boy have never struggled for melodic earworms that weave their way between relentless guitar lines, and Infinity on High is no different in that regard. Take “The Take Over, The Breaks Over” as an example – with its gently bopping octave stabs, the guitar certainly teases itself in a more overtly pop direction, before the chorus’ insistent powerchords pull us back into the punk realm. It’s an interesting snippet of a song, and an album, that in different hands could have gone in a very different direction. We like it better this way, however – especially as it gives space for Trohman to break out a wonderfully fun harmonised guitar solo that’s positively Rivers Cuomo-esque.
You’re someone who knows someone who knows someone I once knew
Friends helping each other out is a cornerstone of the punk ethos, and FOB made collaboration a key part of Infinity On High’s writing and performance.
If the opening monologue on Thriller by icon and label owner Jay-Z wasn’t enough, the album also sees collaborations from Ryan Ross of Panic! At The Disco; Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory; producer, vocalist and guitarist Butch Walker and award-winning producer Babyface who played mandolin, organ, and co-wrote several tracks alongside the foursome.
As a result, the record is certainly a melting pot of styles, and you can almost hear the band trying to figure out how best to execute their sound. This does lead to something of a scatterfun and unfocused result. On the one hand, you have one of the heaviest songs ever written by the band, It’s Hard To Say I Do When I Don’t, but also the almost sweet fingerpicking of Bang The Doldrums, and the classic pop-punk riffs heard in Hum Hallelujah.
Infinity on High is truly a showcase of what Fall Out Boy are capable of. As a band well on their way to becoming pop-punk royalty, they certainly used the record to experiment and find their groove, and the album’s standout track Thnks Fr Th Mmrs presents just that.
There hadn’t been too many orchestral pop-punk songs at this point, but the way it accompanies the opening guitar line is masterfully done. With the bass rolling in alongside swirling violins, the band step into full rock ‘n’ roll pomp territory. Their ambition is on full display and is absolutely in sync with what they’re capable of, allowing the song — and the album — to become almost theatrical in its mood.
A sign of things to come.