For an illustration of how pop music has changed over the past decade, just listen back to back to Fall Out Boy’s first album, “From Under The Cork Tree,” and the group’s current release, “American Beauty/American Psycho.”
Both albums contain certain musical signatures that tie them together, such as energetic, big pop melodies, a quirky humor sprinkled with pop culture references in the lyrics and Patrick Stump’s rangy vocals.
But one thing “From Under the Cork Tree” reminds listeners of is that Fall Out Boy, which appears at Wheatland’s Toyota Amphitheatre on Aug. 5, was indisputably a guitar band when the Chicago-based group smashed through the top 40 charts with that debut album.
Guitars are present on “American Beauty/American Psycho,” but you might not notice them at first. Instead of the big riffs that powered the first album, guitars now mainly provide texture and various instrumental ear candy.
“Sonically, so much of this record, I guess, and the last record, too, was achieving that kind of big noise, taking up a lot of space without that space all being guitars,” Stump explained in a phone interview this spring. “There’s pretty much the same amount, but whereas (on early albums) they would have been the big wall of sound, now drums are taking up a lot of that or things like that.”
The fact that top 40 pop music today is almost entirely devoid of guitars was not lost on Fall Out Boy. Making some sort of shift in its sound was necessary if the group wanted to continue to get pop radio airplay and return to the million-selling success of “From Under the Cork Tree” and its 2007 “Infinity on High.”
So after the four band members – Stump, bassist Pete Wentz, drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman – reunited in 2012 (the group had gone on hiatus in 2009 and for a time it looked like a permanent split), one of the issues the group members addressed was whether being on top 40 radio – and maintaining million-selling success – was important.
“I think we all agreed that if we wanted to do this, we wanted to do it in a way that added to the legacy,” Stump said. “Like there’s no real reason to do another Fall Out Boy anything unless it’s going to be on a similar level … to what we had done before.”
That meant recognizing how commercial pop music had evolved over the preceding few years – and a big change has been the move toward a more keyboard/computer-based synthetic sound and an almost complete absence of guitars. So with the 2014 comeback album, “Save Rock & Roll,” Fall Out Boy set about reshaping its former guitar-based sound. With “Save Rock & Roll,” straight-forward guitars still figured prominently in the sound of several songs, but the band took a considerable step toward featuring other instrumentation, while retaining the group’s hooky melodies. The mix worked, as the album connected commercially. The single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” hit the top 15 or better on multiple charts.
“American Beauty/American Psycho,” which debuted in January at the top of “Billboard” magazine’s album chart, pushes even further away from a guitar-centered sound. On songs like “Irresistible,” “Centuries” (a top-10 hit on multiple charts) and “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” the band gets a big rock sound from opening space for amped-up drums and bass, which also leaves more room to emphasize the vocal melodies. Meanwhile, the single “Uma Thurman” uses samples from the theme song to the TV show “The Munsters,” piano, a few lead guitar fills, drums and washes of sound to fill this sonically rich track.
But while Fall Out Boy sounds suitably synthetic for the times on the new album, Stump noted that the music is also actually more organic than it might sound.
“Everything was played. Everything was sung. Everything was done, really,” he said. “I mean, even the weirdest stuff you hear on there that sounds really inorganic was just some very strange (effect). Like there’s a big drum moment that sounds very alien and weird, and that was mostly old pedals and things.
“I think ‘Save Rock & Roll’ was kind of trying to find what we were doing, what we wanted,” Stump said. “I think this record, ‘American Beauty, American Psycho,’ is very much the end result of what we were kind of aiming for.”
Considering that Fall Out Boy is still ostensibly a two-guitar, bass and drums rock band, one might wonder how the new songs sound live.
Stump said, in a word, they sound heavier and work well on the live stage.
“This record, I feel like, translates live in a lot of ways because there is that energy all over the record,” he said. “But when you see it live, I don’t know, it has a different vibe. It’s a much more energetic vibe.”