I’ve always sort of liked Fall Out Boy. They never claimed to be the vanguard for the DIY ethic, and their mix of huge hooks and glossy production makes them an agreeable alternative music choice when you aren’t busy upping the punx. Their first live album, the oddly titled ****, serves up all the singles from their last three full-length albums, with about half of the set coming from their most recent release, Infinity on High. To top it off, **** has an exclusive cover of Michael Jackson’s "Beat It." All in all, a package that most casual FOB fans could expect to enjoy.
Wow, what went wrong here?
Between the 14 live tracks on this album, there is not a single moment that comes close to the same quality as their studio albums. No one expects pitch-perfect vocals in a live setting, and the occasional fudged guitar chord is to be expected, but **** sounds like a fledgling band embarking on their first tour, not a major label act with multiple albums under their belt and (presumably) state of the art recording equipment. Maybe if Wentz and Trohman weren’t so busy doing completely sweet spin moves on stage, they’d be able to play the correct notes on their guitars. Singer Patrick Stump has some cringe-inducing moments as well, namely the a cappella intro to "Grand Theft Autumn." The only song he manages to nail is the piano ballad "Golden," but that track is just as awkward live as it was in studio, a curious choice to place that slow-tempo downer right in the middle of their otherwise high-energy set.
The best track of the album is their studio version of Michael Jackson’s "Beat It." The punchy guitars give the song a more driving rhythm than the original, and John Mayer contributes an impressive guitar solo that rounds out the cover as a well-above average tribute to a song that has certainly seen its share of bad covers. The sequencing is perplexing, however. The band opted to put this song as the 9th track on the 15-track album, completely disrupting the flow of the live show. More importantly, it reminds the listeners halfway through the album that these guys can’t pull off their studio magic in concert.
Like any live show, the bassist takes center stage, and **** is no exception. Yep, bassist extraordinaire Pete Wentz makes sure to throw in a few entirely useless comments between every song, only to be almost instantly drowned out by the screams of the audience. Additionally, he adds significantly more trademark grunts and yells than he does in studio recordings. If nothing else, it makes the listener temporarily appreciate Stump's vocals that much more.
I had wondered why it took Fall Out Boy so long to release a live album. The band are masters at milking their fans for money, so it was surprising that it took them three full-lengths and two EPs to get this baby out. A cursory listen explains why -- they simply aren’t a good live band. The soundboard recordings from this show almost definitely underwent significant mixing and tweaking to achieve the best possible end result, but most of **** sounds only marginally better than a bootleg. While a couple tracks (namely the MJ cover) are worthwhile to FOB fans, the majority of this live album is a lackluster disappointment.