When fans look at Fall Out Boy’s discography, they often draw a line in the sand. There is the aggressive pop-punk of Take This to Your Grave, and there is the shining pop-rock of Infinity On High and Folie a Deux. But it was the album in between that found the band creating a seamless sonic blend of both of those aspects. From Under the Cork Tree is a perfect album start to finish and marks the high point in Fall Out Boy’s illustrious career.
The album starts off with the scorching “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued,” which acts as a bridge of sorts between this album and its predecessor. It keeps the blistering instrumentation fans had grown accustomed to while adding a glossy finish. “Of All the Gin Joints in All the World” follows and showcases Patrick Stump’s strong, soaring vocals as he delivers an incredible performance, highlighted by a ridiculously catchy refrain of “oh”s. The one-two punch of heavyweights “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” keeps the ball rolling as two of the band’s biggest hits to date. Ignoring the subsequent fan backlash and calls of selling out, those two tracks represent Fall Out Boy at their most grandiose. The pounding drums of the former and the thundering chorus of the latter are the first real glimpse into how Fall Out Boy wanted to grow with this album.
The next two tracks show the band embracing a poppier sound, flirting with lighter, more melodic vocals while still maintaining an edge. “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner” lets Stump again flex his muscles, while Andy Hurley’s sporadic drumming propels the track with unrelenting force. For “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song),” the band turns down the distortion and takes the foot of the gas a bit to show how they have grown musically. It is an interesting choice and, especially now that we have seen how their sound shifted after this, offers a glimpse into the future. While these two tracks show artistic growth, they do drag down the album a tad, and are the only slight complaint on an otherwise flawless record. “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)” kicks it back into gear with its roaring guitar riff and breakneck pace. It is also one of the high points in Pete Wentz’s lyricism. Inspired by his attempted suicide, the line “Trying to forget everything that isn’t you/ I’m not going home alone/ Cause I don’t do too well on my own” gives the track a very honest, introspective feel to it. While throughout his career Wentz’s lyrics have, at times, proved to be slightly cheesy and heavy-handed, they definitely create a connection with the listener and are an integral part of the whole Fall Out Boy aura.
“Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year” and “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends” complement each other well, as both seem to be cut from the same cloth. Punchy guitars litter them, and Stump belts out huge choruses with such power. They then go in the complete opposite direction with the fiercely aggressive “I Slept With Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me.” The scathing track is the heaviest the band gets, with snarling, snarky lyrics such as “I’m the first kid/ To write of hearts, lies, and friends/ And I am sorry/ My conscience called in sick again/ And I’ve got arrogance down to a science,” as well as Chad Gilbert’s brutal screams on the bridge. Altogether it is the hardest hitting song on the album. “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More Touch Me” is one of the most straightforward songs here, but it works in its favor. It’s filled to the brim with hooks, and the guitar riff stands out above all else. The rolling snare and bouncing hi-hat of “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying” push it the furthest from the pop-punk sound they were known for. It shows a bit of musical experimentation while still remaining grounded in a catchy sound. The ending spoken word portion transitions into the album standout, closer “XO.” It’s pop-punk at its core, with galloping drums and unrelenting guitars, but on a grander scale. The repetitive refrains really drive the song home, and it ends the album the record on such an emotional high note.
Some fans clamor for a return to the roots of Take This to Your Grave, while others praise the polished sound of Folie a Deux. But where Fall Out Boy really shines is in the middle ground. Part hard-hitting instrumentation, part stunning vocal melodies, From Under the Cork Tree launched the band into super-stardom, and deservedly so. It is a truly special record that will forever live on as a staple of the scene.