The All-American Rejects began writing material for their third studio album in late December 2006 after wrapping up their Tournado tour, and continued through into the new year. But due to further touring and promotion for their second album Move Along, the band did not enter the studio until nearly a year later. This was also the first time lyricists Nick Wheeler and Tyson Ritter tried new methods of writing by "escaping" to various regional areas in North America to conceive new lyrics so that the songs could sound "honest".
The first songs to be written that made it onto the album were "I Wanna", "Back to Me", and "Breakin'". While "I Wanna" was written over a six-month period, with Ritter making constant refinements, the following songs "Gives You Hell" and "Another Heart Calls" were all written during a road trip to Vancouver, Canada, with "Fallin' Apart" and "Mona Lisa (When the World Comes Down)" getting scored in Rabun County, Georgia, the latter of which was recorded live in one take. The album was later named When the World Comes Down as Ritter saw the title track as "a perfect, simple work of art".
The All-American Rejects began recording for When the World Comes Down at Skywalker Ranch in San Rafael, California and later at Barefoot Studios with producer Eric Valentine. The 16-piece orchestra featured on a dozon of the tracks was recorded at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California.
In an interview with She Knows Entertainment, Ritter commented "I think When the World Comes Down has been a journey. I was twenty-three when I started writing this record. I'm twenty-four now... people say when you graduate college you figure out who you are. If I had graduated college, this would be that moment – now. I think I was most questioning life when I was getting off the road with Move Along and this record was therapy for me. It's everything I needed it to be for me."
During production of the album, The All-American Rejects broadcast live to fans online to provide a direct insight into the "record-making" process. They later released the demo version of the track "Mona Lisa (When the World Come Down)" and "Sierra's Song" as free downloads, the latter of which never featured on the album and appears on the soundtrack to the American television show 90210.
Upon When the World Comes Down's release, ten percent of profits made from the album's sales were donated to the charity Feed the Children. The album was also named one of the most anticipated albums of 2008 by Alternative Press.
"Gives You Hell" was premiered as the album's lead single on September 30, 2008 and was met with critical and commercial success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 charts in the United States. A music video followed its release on November 3, 2008, with an alternative version premiering in January 2009. "Mona Lisa (When the World Comes Down)" was released November 18, 2008 along with its music video as a promotional single prior to the album's release. "The Wind Blows" was released as the album's second single on April 21, 2009 and was swiftly followed by the release of its music video on April 27, an alternative version was published the following October.
On June 8, 2009, the album's opening track "I Wanna" was released as its third and final single, charting at #15 on the Australian Singles chart and reaching the top 30 on the BillboardMainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 charts in the U.S. Two music videos (aimed at different music markets) followed the single's release; the first one premiered the following mid-July, while the second was released on October 13, 2009. "Real World" was later released as a second promotional single on July 8, 2009. The track became a staple on various American rock radio stations for a time and also features on the soundtrack to the 2009 film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
When the World Comes Down received mixed reviews from music critics. The album has a score of 64 out of 100 from Metacritic based on "generally favorable reviews".The Boston Herald gave it a B- and stated, "there are tracks that showcase their amalgam of bubblegum-pop and hair metal, as well as their penchant for corn-fed power ballads. But the rest is a departure."Melodic gave it a score of four stars out of five and said, "You could fool anyone with this being a Greatest Hits collection because the new songs are that good!"The Boston Globe gave it a favorable review and said that the album "will only cement the band's top-of-the-heap status." RedRecords gave it a score of 90% and said it "isn’t an amazing album based on how far and deep the band goes into perfecting their genre, it is an amazing album because it sounds great and diverse. There are no boring tracks (though there are some filler tracks, even they’re listenable) and there isn’t a dictating genre to keep everything in line. The lyrics are okay, nothing poor but nothing great, and the production is incredible."Rock Sound gave it a score of seven out of ten and called it "A-class power-pop of the standard so many other bands reach for but can never attain."
The New York Times gave it a positive review and called it "completely clear and even traditional pop music, but those over 16 will likely have no use for it."Billboard gave it an average review and said that the album "doesn't evince much growth, proffering more of the same hooky pop/rock centered around adolescent love and heartache." However, Blender gave it two-and-a-half stars out of five and said, "Anything involving a string section is disastrous, but a couple of choruses are suitable for both raucous fist-pumping and rampant pouting."
Thirty seconds of silence is featured between tracks 11 and 12 on the CD release of the album.
Bonus Computer Content on all CD Deluxe Editions and the UK album (which is essentially a deluxe version) includes the videos "Track by Track with Tyson and Nick", the "Mona Lisa" music video, the "Gives You Hell" MTV edit music video, and "The Making of Gives You Hell". The former two videos can be downloaded onto the computer from the website, as well as from the iTunes Deluxe Edition. Lastly, the Bonus Computer Content website features a small picture gallery with pictures that can be set as wallpapers on the computer.