I love Fall Out Boy. I love nearly everything they have done. I own all their albums and still listen to them regularly, despite the hiatus (which is now over, yay!). The downside to being a big fan is that it also comes hand in hand with some form of disappointment, without exception. I’m not talking about a band you like writing bad songs, because that is bound to happen – for instance, ‘w.a.m.s’ by Fall Out Boy is probably my least favourite of all of their songs. Oh god, it’s so bad, but I digress. Instead, I’m talking about when a band has so much potential to make something great, and completely fails at it.
That brings me nicely on to the subject of West Coast Smoker by Fall Out Boy. This song is the closing track of their 2008 album ‘Folie à Deux’. It is, at first glance, a decent enough rock song with a catchy hook and nice melodies. The problem that I have with this song is that it has so many ingredients that could make it exceptional, and it just ends up as OK.
Let’s have a look at the elements of the songs that are already great, and that show the songs awesome potential:
- That rock and roll guitar riff.
That riff is so cool. It’s such a rock and roll riff. Not too simple that it gets boring with repetition, and not too complicated that it gets confusing when played under the vocals of the verses. It makes me want to pick up a guitar and learn it, which I think is the sign of a great riff!
- The awesome hook.
Many of FOBs lyrics are so personal and poetic that it’s hard to make out what’s actually being talked about in the songs. This song is no exception really, but their use of Christianity’s Holy Trinity in the chorus is so damn infectious that you can’t help but sing along! “Knock once for the father, twice for the son, three times for the Holy Ghost.”
Also: “Oh hell yes!”
- The Holy Trinity drums bridge thing.
Just after the ‘choir’-singing bit in the bridge, we are launched back in to the song with a simplified version of the chorus hook, stripped back with individual drum beats bashed out by Andy Hurley. I like how they manage to fit one, then two, then three drum beats into a 4/4 song, to match the ‘knocking’ described by lyrics of the chorus, and don’t make it sound forced. It just feels nice to listen to. This is also repeated at the very end of the song – “Three times for the Holy Ghost…” *DUM DUM DUM* sweeeeeet.
Now let’s have a look at the elements of this song that were overlooked and could have been done SO MUCH BETTER:
- Guitar Solo (Or lack thereof).
I love pop-punk, but if there’s one recurring issue that I have with the genre, it’s that there seems to be this unspoken rule that guitar solos are not allowed. I don’t get it. I know that some people would see guitar solos as too self-indulgent, but when you have lyrics like “I’m the last of my kind, and as always I’m not addicted to you.”, I think a little guitar noodling wouldn’t look out of place every once in a while.That’s not to say that there are no pop-punk bands that use guitar solos. Some do, and do it really well! Look at Mayday Parade – they are a prime example of a punk band that are not afraid to stick some awesome licks in their songs. (‘No Heroes Allowed’ and ‘I’d Hate To Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About’ in particular!)And it’s not a skill-level issue – playing in a band for 10 years MAKES you a good guitarist, whether you try to be or not! At the very least it ensures a guitarist has the competency to pull a 10-second guitar solo out of the bag for the last song on the album. I’ve seen Joe Trohman play in FOB live, I know he’s got what it takes!
Fall Out Boy have always stuck closely to their genre stereotype. Which isn’t a bad thing – that’s what genres are for – but when they make a song like West Coast Smoker – a song that is just BEGGING to be an amazing rock song – they seem timid and reserved. I mean, they tease it so much in the song. The song builds up over the first two verses and choruses, and then drops down low for the bridge – all good so far – but when it kicks back in, we’re just launched straight back into the final chorus, wondering if they maybe just forgot to record the solo that should obviously be there. There is even a handful of guitar-solo-ish notes that can be heard when the song kicks back in before the last chorus, over the “I’m a nervous wreck!” part – such a tease!
If you disagree and think that FOB should steer well clear of guitar solos in their tunes, I would like to remind you of their cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’, featuring the awesome guitarist John Mayer. Just TRY and not rock out to that solo!
- It’s got Debbie Harry in it.
Seriously. It’s got Debbie Harry in the song. I know that reading this you will be probably thinking ‘Surely I would have noticed if the singer from Blondie was featured in the closing track on a Fall Out Boy album…’, and you wouldn’t be the only one thinking that either. I’m not exactly a Blondie fan, but I know that she’s got a great voice and in ‘West Coast Smoker’ she’s given a measly 2 lines to sing, which repeat twice in the short 2 minute and 46 second song. I’m not saying that she should be given a ton of lyrics just because she’s famous, and I don’t think that it should all be about her, but when there are about 16 different vocal tracks on one song, you’d think they might threw just a few backing vocals her way? Rather than having Patrick Stump do them all? No? OK.Patrick Stump has a phenomenal voice (as he realises all too well, judging by the sheer volume of backing vocal tracks he recorded on this album) but it’s just a waste to have a famous singer like Debbie Harry on a track and only have her singing 10 words. If she recorded any backing vocals for the chorus or any other part of the song, the mixing has just drowned her out with Patrick’s vocals.
Such a waste. It could have been so good!
I don’t mean to bash Fall Out Boy, and I know that I’m just being pedantic by de-constructing this song to this degree. Many of my issues with this song stem from my love of the band, my belief in their potential and adoration for their work. I just wish they had taken their time in recording this one, because it could have been one of their greats.