Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #21. “Is This More Than You Bargained For Yet?”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 16, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

I remember hearing about Fall Out Boy a bunch throughout the first half of the 00s, although I couldn’t have told you a thing about them. They were one of those bands that clearly had a cult following, but whose cult involved no one that I actually interacted with in my day-to-day life. Still, I could tell that the buzz around them was definitely building, and when I saw MTV2 was advertising for the video premiere of “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” I knew that if the song was any good, it’d probably be the thing that broke them into the mainstream and actually forced me to listen to them for the first time. Needless to say, it was. It was really, really good.

Fall Out Boy might not have been the biggest rock band of this decade (though for a little while, it certainly looked like they were pushing for the top honors), but they were probably the one that most made me think “OK, so this is what 00s rock is going to be best remembered as sounding like.” And we really kind of needed a band like that, as even by the middle of the decade, rock had yet to develop a decade-specific identity. Take a look at the list of #1 modern rock hits from the year 2005. Anything jump out at you? How about this: They’re all 90s artists. The only two artists on this list who weren’t at their commercial peak in 1995 are Gorillaz and Audioslave, and they both were comprised of dudes from other bands (Blur, Rage, Soundgarden) who were big then. Five years into the 00s, and still, the best we could do was decade-old leftovers. Even as awesome as the 90s were, you’d have to admit that was kind of pathetic.

Fall Out Boy didn’t necessarily change that–they never even topped the MR charts themsevles, and the next year still saw plenty of retro acts at pole position–but they gave the 00s something that was uniquely theirs, the first legitimately huge band who (along with My Chemical Romance) felt like they owed relatively little to the 90s. Not that what they were doing was revolutionary by any means–pop-punk had been a dominant musical force since Green Day fucked up a coach in 1994, and bands like Weezer and Blink-182 provided some more direct musical and lyrical precedents for the Fall Out Boy sound. But there was an attitude to Fall Out Boy that felt distinctly new, a snark, a pop-culture literacy, an overly-emotive preciousness. Basically, listening to them felt very much like reading a friend’s LiveJournal–and I mean that very literally, with all the semi-spun-honesty, the warped perspective, and the embarrassing moments of self-indulgence that that implied. They were often riveting and just as often cringe-worthy, and they felt important in a way that no mainstream rock crossover had in years.

I can’t really stress how important it was that “Sugar, We’re Going Down” was the first bit most of us heard from them, though. Many of their other songs would have been too esoteric, too self-pitying, or just too clever-clever for audiences to take as a first blast. There was an essential sweetness (no pun intended) to “Sugar” that allowed us to open our hearts to Fall Out Boy, or maybe just a relative lack of bitterness. Many of the lyrics were incomprehensible–viral videos were made about it, even–but it just felt nice, and the simple cheesiness of the puppy-deer-love video gave it all the extra push it would need. It didn’t seem like it was trying to be a huge rock single, but it was inherently big enough that it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before it would become one.

And you wanna know the song’s dirty little secret, as well as the key to its musical appeal? Like many of the biggest skeletons in the 00s’ closet, it has to do with Scott Stapp. You remember the Creed song “Higher,” don’t you? Well, do you remember the intro to “Higher” being virtually identical to the intro (as well as the main chorus hook) to “Sugar, We’re Going Down”? Take a listen if you don’t believe me, and then check out the “Sugar” riff again–the pounding drums and muted guitar strums, bursting into the wall-of-guitar lift-off? Oh yeah, it’s there. It probably took me two to three years to put my finger on the connection, but once I did, it became totally inextricable. And really, it’s not such a bad thing–the intro and riff to “Higher” is actually Creed’s finest moment by some distance, and we owe Fall Out Boy something of a debt from freeing it from the rest of the terrible lyrics and worse video also attached to the song.

It’s a fantastic musical backbone for the song, but what really made Fall Out Boy was always their lyrics. As previously stated, many of them are incomprehensible, either because they’re too garbled by singer Patrick Stump or they just don’t seem to make much sense (“We’re always sleeping in, and sleeping for the wrong team,” “Lie in the grass, next to the mausoleum,” “A loaded God complex, cock it and pull it”). But where Wentz’s strength really lay was in crafting short, quirky phrases that stuck in your head like catchy little riffs, lyrics whose mixture of jealousy, horniness and narcissistic self-loathing quickly became a FOB trademark (“Watching you two from the closet, wishing to be the friction in your jeans,” “I’m just a notch in your bedpost, but you’re just a line in a song”). Even a line as simple and essentially meaningless as “I’ll be your number one with a bullet” quickly took on a life of its own, just by virute of the fact that it didn’t seem like something any other band would say.  To go back to the internet connection, they felt like the first band who seemed to compose lyrics specifically to be put up as teens’ AIM away messages. (And sorry if you don’t think that’s an historically significant designation, grandpa and/or grandma.)

Of course, it helped back then when we thought that the guy who wrote those lyrics was Stump, whose tense, just-on-the-verge-of-shrill tremble was the perfect voice of the band. It quickly turned out, though, that Stump was just a mouthpiece for the band’s actual lyricist, as well as their true creative and commercial driving force, bassist Pete Wentz. The video for “Sugar” was, as well as I can remember, the last time when Wentz would be anything but the band’s concentrated focal point, as even by follow-up video “Dance, Dance,” he was giving himself the starring role. It seemed sort of fair at the time–Wentz was clearly the brains behind the operation, as adept at playing to a fanbase and acting as his band’s own PR manager as he was at writing these brain-latching pop lyrics. The fact that Wentz far more looked the part of the frontman than Stump (who seemed to gain about 15 pounds each time the band came out with a new video) also certainly helped the shift in spotlight seem natural.

Unfortunately, Wentz’s increased visibility and creative control ended up hurting the band far more than it helped. At their core, Fall Out Boy still felt like a cult act, one whose personal connection to their fanbase seemed as important to their success as their hit songs. But Wentz wanted Fall Out Boy to be the biggest band in the world, and started playing the part of the controversy-baiting pop star–getting Jay-Z to appear on their album for no particular reason, taking over hosting duties on MTV shows, and even marrying pop semi-star Ashlee Simpson–a move which stated to his fans, in no uncertain terms, that no matter how much you still related to his lyrics, you officially no longer had anything in common whatsoever with Pete Wentz. Meanwhile, FOB’s songs and videos started becoming more and more about their own image, and you could start to actually feel Wentz’s increasingly-cloying hand in orchestrating every plot point of the band’s career, desperately trying to get Fall Out Boy to the very tippy-top of the pop world.

Ultimately, I think it was Wentz’s too-acute self-awareness that lowered the band’s ceiling–real rock stars might be able to control their own fates for a few years, but they don’t spend their whole lives trying to do it without completely losing touch with reality. Fall Out Boy still sounds like they think they’re the biggest band in the world, but the facts no longer bear this out–latest album Folie a Deux sold far less than their first two smashes, and only spun off one semi-hit single, the slightly-above-average “I Don’t Care.” And it’s a shame, because if the band had just let things develop organically, I think they had the talent, the timing and the following to become as big as they ever wanted to be just on their own. Hell, look at Green Day, who spent nearly a decade actively fighting the over-saturation that Fall Out Boy spent nearly as long trying to embrace, and ended up being far huger as a result than FOB will likely ever be again.

The one part of Fall Out Boy’s legacy not touched by either their slight fall from grace or Wentz’s after-the-fact douchery, however, remains “Sugar,” a song with as glorious a riff and chorus and as unforgettable a verse as you were likely to find in all the 00s. We can still listen to it today and remember a time when it seemed like the 00s finally had an outfit worthy of taking the alt-rock mantle from the heavy-hitters of the 90s–even if they were making their bones on a Creed rip-off with non-sensical lyrics. Hey, that’s just what the Naughty Oughties were like sometimes.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down”

2 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #21. “Is This More Than You Bargained For Yet?””

  1. I totally know I’ve heard/made the “Higher”/”Sugar” connection before, but thanks for putting it in print.

    These posts make my day when they show up in my RSS reader.

  2. MBI said

    “an essential sweetness (no pun intended) to “Sugar” that allowed us to open our hearts to Fall Out Boy, or maybe just a relative lack of bitterness.”

    Uh, are you sure? I mean, you did mention the horniness, jealousy, narcissism and self-loathing. I’ve always found the “Sugar, We’re Going Down” a misleading title; “I’m Going Down and I’m Taking You With Me,” I always felt, would be more in line with the song’s actual sentiments. Not that I’m complaining, exactly; “Sugar We’re Going Down” is awesome. I just think the sweetness is a complete put-on and Wentz still remains a fucking asshole.

    And yes, I’ve been pumped up when “Sugar We’re Going Down” begins only to find out that I’m actually listening to Creed more than once (and vice versa!). Also: Fall Out Boy higher than Radiohead, fuck yeah!

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