Still Under The Cork Tree: How Fall Out Boy’s Career-Defining Album Changed The Scene
I lose a lot of cred when I admit that the first time I heard Fall Out Boy, it was on the radio. I could blame any number of things: parents who threw out any magazine whose cover stars looked too “scary,” having friends who preferred purity rings to lip rings, my quiet house on a quiet street in Nowheresville, Wisconsin. But in my pre-internet reality, the mp3s hadn’t quite made their way to my mix CDs and, somehow, I hadn’t heard them making a fuss only two hours south in Chicago.
So my introduction was “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” played through a dirty backseat’s tinny speakers as my friend’s mom drove us to hockey practice.
“What band is this?” I asked, sliding into the door as she took a sharp left turn.
“It’s Fall Out Boy,” my friend supplied, whirling around from the front seat. “How do you not know that? They’re emo like you.” This criticism of my music know-how would haunt me for years, but I owe her for it.
At the time “emos like me,” were infiltrating every part of popular culture. The N*SYNC and Backstreet Boys of the world were dwindling and, desperate to stay relevant, magazines and television shows figured that these other, sadder boys would work just fine. As the early 2000s faded into the mid-aughts, Good Charlotte and Green Day began to appear next to Kelly Clarkson and Usher on TRL’s Number Ones. Meanwhile, I purchased both Take This To Your Grave and From Under The Cork Tree, marveling at the intricate cover designs and song titles that ran for two lines on the back of the CD casing.
In an era where “sellout” was the scene’s curse word of choice, From Under The Cork Tree was FOB’s big, beautiful “fuck you.”
“Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and “Dance, Dance” rattled up the radio charts. The vampire-ridden music video for “A Little Less Sixteen Candles (A Little More Touch Me)” gave them another boost. But the album’s heartbeat came from so much more: Patrick Stump’s searing vocals, pop-music guitars layered over turned-up drum beats, Pete Wentz’s lyrics that could go from nonsensical to letter-perfect in a matter of syllables.
People love to write about the sense of belonging that comes from emo music, and for good reason. In a world where you feel like a constant outcast, you cling to every piece of art and culture like a liferaft. My brother had shown me blink-182 a few years ago, but it didn’t stick. Like any good rebel, I needed something new — or, at least, something that was new to me. As I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, nose inches from the flickering screen, watching the blood-sucking versions of Fall Out Boy do backflips, I knew. These were my people.
Let’s be clear: Fall Out Boy did not invent pop-punk. But they did add a new edge to it: introspective lyrics wrenched from pop culture references and lovesick ramblings. Eccentric music videos that they continued far beyond the TRL era. Red carpet appearances, club openings and celebrity couples. The earworms that skyrocketed them to this fame came from this album. It’s built off the record that straddled their Midwest roots and big-city sparkle.
Years later, there are countless tattoos, fan art, essays, concert photos and more, all showing off what this record has done for people. Much like their stepping stone from phenom local band to international superstars, this record had people step from fringe edges of pop punk to the scene’s full culture takeover.
I know, because I was there, scribbling the lyrics to “Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year” on the side of my Converse. Now, people ask about my soundwave tattoo and I say, “It’s a Fall Out Boy song.” It’s a track almost no one recognizes, but off of their album everyone knows. And that’s the beauty of it: finding a place in this record that you can call all your own. Go listen, and let us know what you hear.