Fall Out Boy's full-length label debut, Take This to Your Grave is a smart collection of emo-influenced pop-punk tunes. It's long on harmony and the kind of earnest, dual guitar riffing listeners have come to expect from young rockers raised on a diet of hardcore, Punk-O-Rama comps, and MTV. But Fall Out Boy really necks ahead of the pack behind the enormous voice of dreamboat-in-training lead singer Patrick Stump and lyrical content that merges musings on love and youth with healthy amounts of cutting cynicism, savvy popular culture touchstones, and cheeky phraseology. Though it was issued by Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello's Fueled By Ramen imprint, a hefty advance from Island allowed Fall Out Boy to record Grave at Butch Vig's Smart Studios compound in Madison, WI, and employ the skills of producer Sean O'Keefe, who'd handled the boards for units like Lucky Boys Confusion and Motion City Soundtrack. Of course, Island will be looking for a substantial return on investment from Fall Out Boy. But before the band follows in the footsteps of Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional -- which it deserves to and will -- listeners can enjoy Take This to Your Grave's undeniable mixture of exuberance and romantic hardcore.
Like a high-school dreamer's homeroom notebook, Grave's margins are littered with impossibly clever turns of phrase. A preliminary scan of the record's song titles is enough to prove this. From the double-time hardcore of "Reinventing the Wheel to Run Myself Over" to the shifting dynamics of "Homesick at Space Camp" (which was seemingly engineered by NASA to incite a crowd singalong), Fall Out Boy renders each song with a different mix of talents. Every time you think you've heard it all before, the band kills with another couplet. "I know I'm not your favorite record/The songs you grow to like never stick at first," Stump croons in "Dead on Arrival." Later, "Calm Before the Storm" dissects a relationship with an almost intellectual mix of casual, MTV-generation reference-making and a dose of self-analysis that suggests sadcore anti-hero Bill Callahan. After name-checking a throwaway Top 40 ditty, Stump addresses his ex: "What you do on your own time's just fine/My imagination's much worse." While Grave's 12 tracks run on the long-range external tanks of emotion that every teenager refuels with each miniature passing period drama, they're also professionally executed packets of melody. While the exposed nerve of hardcore is apparent throughout, Stump, bassist Peter Wentz, drummer Andrew Hurley, and guitarist Joseph Trohman are making music for a generation that appreciates a good hook, and isn't necessarily concerned where it comes from. Alternative, hip-hop, California skatepunk -- all the videos are directed the same way, and flannels, Fubu, and wallet chains are sometimes just set decorations. Fall Out Boy's positive is its honest intersection of pop's shallow nature with the rippling passion of hardcore. The band pulled all the frames of reference off the wall and built a larger one with the mismatched pieces. Inside it is Take This to Your Grave, a spectacular debut art project.