The first time I knew I was old (but not too old) was when I was watching Fall Out Boy perform on Saturday Night Live. I had never heard the band’s music before that night, and I had never planned on ever hearing it, dismissing Fall Out Boy as pabulum for the kids who were too uninterested in music to look for anything that wasn’t on the radio and their peers’ iPods. I had, like so many music fans, divorced myself from the populist obligation to Know Your Charts.
But even though the group was as derivative and pedestrian as I had imagined it would be, I saw something in Fall Out Boy that I recognized from ten years ago. The bands I had loved — not the ones like Rancid or Nirvana or Oasis that I will still defend to this day, but the ones like Offspring or Stone Temple Pilots or, God help me, Reel Big Fish — had seemed a little bit like this: outwardly rebellious, mildly emotionally troubled, willfully out of control. I was not, after all, so old that I couldn’t remember that feeling, and if Fall Out Boy couldn’t elicit that from me (a partially depressing idea, I’ll admit), I could at least see what the kids liked about them.
Which is where Infinity on High rests in my mind. Jay-Z’s introduction notwithstanding (and why does he have such bizarre taste?), Fall Out Boy seems separated from any music universe I know, and yet I can assure myself that it will be a long time before I ask anyone to turn down that noisy racket. I genuinely like “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” a single that manages to be catchy without softening the band’s sound or commercializing its (admittedly pre-shined) style. And the fact that I don’t despise the band after riffing on the Leonard Cohen classic in “Hum Hallelujah” is certainly a good sign; if Brandon Flowers had done it, I’d probably be languishing in some high-security prison somewhere right now.
I won’t say I look down upon Fall Out Boy fans, hyper-aware that, like I did, they will soon wake up and realize that there is better, far more authentic and emotionally hefty music in the world, because, really, who am I? But I reserve the right to ask for more from mainstream rock, even if all the signs point to a dead genre, desperate for new reserves that don’t seem to be coming. For now, I’ll just be content in the fact that kids everywhere are at least getting their kicks from a band that knows how to have a good time. Now, My Chemical Romance I just don’t get.