Thoughts On Folie a Deux Ten Years Later

So, as you can tell by the title, Fall Out Boy’s fourth record, Folie a Deux, is now a whole decade old. Being released on December 16th 2008 in the United States (although it was released early in some other countries), Folie was weird. But 2008 was also a weird time in terms of music and also in terms of life in general. Does the economic recession ring any bells? Ha ha, let’s try to avoid that. Anyway, to give you a sense of what was happening in pop culture, the Billboard Hot 100 Year End 2008 chart was all over the place, featuring some old country Taylor Swift, lots of Rihanna, One Republic, Leona Lewis, Lil Wayne and the #1 song of the year being “Low” by Flo Rida. There was really no general direction for pop/ rock music; whatever sounded good landed radio airplay no matter the genre or subgenre of the track. It’s just too bad Folie didn’t sound good.

Now when I say that “Folie didn’t sound good”, I don’t mean that it was at all a bad record. This happens to be my absolute favorite release from the band and one of my favorite records of all time. With that being said, however, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t an easy one to get into. Even the singles released, the two upbeat ones being “America’s Suitehearts” and “I Don’t Care”, are infectiously catchy, amazingly written and produced tracks but require a bit of deciphering and understanding which most people just didn’t seem to have the patience for back then. Even upon my own first listen to the record, I hated it. Flat out, I got a few seconds into each song, decided it wasn’t for me, and went on with my day. I can’t even explicitly remember what I disliked so much. Maybe because it didn’t sound like their previous material, maybe because it felt oversaturated with horns and special effects and guest features, or maybe just because I couldn’t understand any of the lyrics and no lyric booklet was included with the CD (I was probably mostly upset about this last one, honestly). Regardless, if you look closely at what people enjoyed most at the time, all of the hits were rather easy to listen to, pop songs. There wasn’t anything really interesting or stand out and I think a lot of people just got used to that. And although pop clearly isn’t a good word used to describe this record, intricate definitely is but it sure does come with a cost.

Intricacy normally correlates with confusion, which although critics were rather fair to the record, the fans were not. Keep in mind that this record was released only three years after their smash hit “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and less than two years after another rock heavy record of Infinity On High. Many fans had mixed feelings about Folie at the time, which is clearly understandable from my view point considering I was one of those fans. I wanted to like the album but there was something getting in my way. And that thing was more than likely the change from angst-y pop punk to polished actual adult music. How dare they branch out and try new material, they’re only allowed to be emo! Looking back on it now, I wish I had realized that they never wanted to be “emo” and I wish I had understood that music changes. I think this stubbornness from the fans and their resistance to change was what really brought down the record. What’s very unfortunate about that concept however, is that if you listen closely this record actually does contain elements of their old music. The screams of “I’m a nervous wreck” from 27 are nostalgic of Take This To Your Grave, while “Headfirst Slide” contains some apprehension found mostly in Cork Tree and “She’s My Winona” is almost theatrical and reminds me of Infinity On High. However, this was highly overlooked at the time and the band was booed during performances of the songs from the record which might be a reason many of those songs aren’t played live to this day. Unfortunately, as hard as it was to perform some of these songs, it was even harder to record them. The band allegedly got into major arguments during this time and many have said it was a rough patch in the bands history. It’s no wonder that after all this turmoil packed in just about a year or two, Fall Out Boy went on hiatus.

After a few years goes by, maybe sometime around 2012, my music taste shifted. Fall Out Boy were no longer “together” and I remember radio music being absolute garbage. I hated pop music from that time and I had finally gotten an iPod touch (ah, the good old days). So as I was putting music on it, I decided to try to listen to Folie a Deux once again. Somewhere, somehow, I began to actually listen to the music itself. With no regard of who made it or what I expected it to sound like, I slowly eased myself into this realm of madness. I was also about four years more mature and definitely listened to much more polished music than I had during my initial listen. This time around, I was amazed at all the things I had missed. Lil Wayne is featured on “Tiffany Blews” and it doesn’t sound like an out of place cliché? What’s Brendon Urie doing singing a duet on “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”? Wow, “Disloyal Order Of Water Buffalos” is actually a banger once you get past the organ intro and that guitar solo on “27” is some of their best guitar work yet. Who would have known?

Besides all the fascinating collaborations, the entire composition of every track is brilliant in it’s own way. The lyrics take on a more retrospective look on the world which is quite a contrast from their past music being so openly condemning. “I’m half doomed / And you’re semi sweet”, “Peroxide princess / Shine like shark teeth”, “Dear gravity / You’ve held me down in this starless city”, “I’ve got troubled thoughts and the self esteem to match / What a catch” and “Never the same person when I go to sleep / As when I wake up” are all lyrically stunning and do a wonderful job of portraying images of what they mean in the listeners mind. This is undeniably their best lyrical work, with all the words being penned by bassist Pete Wentz and composition of the music done by the rest of the band, Andy Hurley, Joe Trohman and Patrick Stump. Musically, it’s a lot to handle with the tracks including more than just heavy drumming and guitar riffs. “w.a.m.s.” features a synthesizer (which has never been heard before on a FOB song). “I Don’t Care” is built off of a basic blues boogie. The opening of “Disloyal Order” with an organ creates instant bewilderment and “(Coffee’s For Closers)” begins with a contrast between a prominent drum beat and a light guitar hook, which had most people (probably) wondering what the heck is going on. And yet, even when this teeters on the edge of becoming unlistenable, the cohesiveness of all the tracks and how they fit together keep the album from falling past that point. Better yet, if you listen to it loud enough or on a record player you can actually hear how the songs all morph together, creating an album that makes sense when all is said and done.

With everything else put aside, the main reason I believe Folie a Deux is an absolute treasure of an album is simply because of the ambition behind it. Change is difficult, especially in the music industry where you never know how your art will be acknowledged. Fall Out Boy created a project that was stepping out of their comfort zone (and fans’ comfort zones) but at the end of the day, this record showed massive growth for a band I’m sure many people didn’t expect it from. It’s a shame that ten years ago the circumstances of how the record came to be and the reception of it weren’t positive. But one thing I can say with certainty is that this is Fall Out Boy’s best work and it overjoys me today to see this record receive the recognition it deserves.

 

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