Over the course of their first three albums, Fall Out Boy followed a jaw-dropping arc: Their 2003 debut Take This To Your Grave was a mildly rugged bit of Warped Tour hardcore that got blown up to an IMAX version of itself on 2005's From Under the Cork Tree (that's the one with radio and MySpace staples "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Dance Dance") and finally rode a rocket through the agit-pop ozone on 2007's Infinity on High. The band who made "Hum Hallelujah," the Leonard Cohen-winking album cut above, bears almost no resemblance to the one that banged out buzzy emo in Chicago basements. But that was always the plan, as the members of Fall Out Boy (and particularly bassist/lyricist/Internet penis icon Pete Wentz) were always thinking bigger. In fact, the band had already signed their major label deal when they put their first album out on Fueled By Ramen; Island allowed Take This To Your Grave to come out on an indie in order to bank some credibility, an age-old tactic that was also practice by fellow Chicago band Smashing Pumpkins a generation earlier.
Those stylistic and commercial leaps were calculated, but I find them no less laudable; in fact, if I had a band, that's exactly the journey I would want me group to follow with its opening triptych: a mildly unpolished debut followed by a reach for an arena-sized brass ring and finally settling on a blast of hybrid pop weirdness. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about Infinity on High (it's not like it's OK Computer or anything), but when it came out in 2007 it carried with it a bit of surreality that neither the emo devotees nor the top 40-listening newcomers knew how to process. It feels typical now (just about every band on Alt Nation sounds like their trying to ape the electronic punk mishmash of Infinity), but people were confused by its odd structures and chest-thumping swoop.
Fall Out Boy arrived a little too late to matter to me. By the time "Sugar, We're Going Down" got them onto the cover of Spin, I was already an adult with a job (at Spin). But songs like "Hum Hallelujah" do provide me with a bit of emotional tourism that simultaneously feels satisfying and kind of gross. Fall Out Boy were not a part of my youth, but they easily could have been. I didn't have much of an affinity for emo when I was growing up—I had processed Sunny Day Real Estate and had a compilation that had a Jawbreaker song on it, but I don't think I really processed the scene until much later (I'm still not sure I've ever listened to Rainer Maria). My hardcore friend Joe used to use "emo" as a derogatory descriptor for a song he found too pop leaning; this epithet was generally reserved for Rancid songs that ended up on the radio. But I was always a pop fetishist at heart, and I loved enough Green Day and Blink-182 tunes to know that had Fall Out Boy arrived in '98 I would have definitely been obsessed.
I still get a charge out of hearing the hook of "Hum Hallelujah," but it's a simulacra of a real, deeper feeling. (I recognize this as a problem with me, not with Wentz and the gang.) When Weezer's "El Scorcho" pops up on a playlist, I appreciate it both on an objective level (because it is a well-constructed bit of garage pop) and on a deeply personal one (because I am internally transported back to the thrill of discovering the song, diving into Pinkerton, and using the track as fuel to help me get over a girl). It's fundamental nostalgia, gently brushing against an old bit of my psyche and illuminating a mild throb in my memory. When I listen to "Hum Hallelujah," I get that same kind of satisfaction, but my brain has to make an active leap to get there. I am essentially projecting the song into my own past, and recognizing that if it had existed alongside some of the other songs that were actually there in real time, then it would have the same effect on me now. I'm essentially tricking myself into believing that "Hum Hallelujah" was a part of my youth even though it absolutely was not.
Why am I able to fool myself like this? Most likely because I recognize that a handful of Wentz's lyrics would be the sort of phrases I would have scribbled in the margins of my AP Government notes and possibly tried to pass off as my own turns of phrase. I guarantee that 16-year-old Kyle would think that "I thought I loved you/ It was just how you looked in the light" was a brutal burn, and he would have daydreamed about getting a tattoo with the line "One day we'll be nostalgic for disaster." (If you couldn't tell by any of this, 16-year-old Kyle was a complete asshole.) Ironically, the lyrics of "Hum Hallelujah" keep me from fully enjoying the song as an adult. In high school, I would have forgiven the line "A teenage vow in a parking lot/ Til tonight do us part," but now today it just feels clunky and leaden. "Hum Hallelujah" makes me feel it without feeling it, but I'll take a pristine fake if I don't have to think about it.