Reflecting On: Panic at the Disco – Pretty. Odd.

Pretty. Odd. may be the biggest upset in music that I was alive to see. In 2007, to say that Panic! At the Disco were on top of the world is an understatement. Their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was a massive hit. The band had more or less overtaken Fall Out Boy as the poster child for record label Fueled By Ramen, and their live shows had become the things of legend. The anticipation for their sophomore release was ravenous, especially after hearing reports that the band had scrapped an entire record themed around fairy tales. Pretty. Odd. caught absolutely everyone off guard except the band that created it.

You can buy Pretty. Odd. on Apple Music.

Pretty. Odd. was a true gamble. Leveraging the fame of Panic!, the band decided to completely and utterly change who they were. Gone were the live stage shows, emo-infused lyrical wordplay, electronic beats and cabaret inspired rock. Even the exclamation point in their name was removed. What took its place was a mock version of The Beatles. It pissed off everyone I knew, and it almost destroyed the band completely.

In retrospect, Pretty. Odd. is a glorious masterpiece. It is a solid rock record, inspired by classic British rock and folk music. It is utterly unique. Nothing like it has been created since, and the current version of Panic! has more or less swept it under the rug. However, while almost everyone (that I know of) prefer any other album from the band, Pretty. Odd. has held up considerably well and has never gotten the full respect it deserved.

The shift in the album’s sound is a stark one, so much so that the opening song, “We’re So Starving”, actually has to tell the audience, “You don’t have to worry, cuz we’re still the same band”. Looking beyond the shift in sound though, is an album that, in almost any other circumstance, would have been regarded as an uncontested indie cornerstone. The pop anthems are expertly crafted, backed by an absolutely massive orchestral piece. Harmonica, violins, mandolin, saxophone and flutes bring a life to the music that is rarely found outside of movie scores.

What they enhance, though, is a series of secretive fairy tales and stories hidden beneath the shock of classic rock. The surreal imagery within the songs is second to none, such as in “Behind the Sea” (“Like bobbing bait for bathing cod / Floating flocks of candled swans / Slowly drift across wax ponds”). Or in the tuba encrusted “From a Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins”, as Brendon Urie sings, “Lying there, with a halo in her hair she cried / There are feathers everywhere, but it’s fine / You do this all the time”.

The legacy of Pretty. Odd. is one of gambles that paid off in ways that no one foresaw. Guitarist and songwriter Ryan Ross allegedly had a large hand in controlling the band’s direction for this release. Removing everything that made Panic! famous in the first place moved the attention aimed on them to the opposite spectrum. The shock was that they weren’t shocking.

Ross threw his full weight behind this direction for the band. It was an utter rebirth of the sound of pop rock from the 60’s, both paying homage to and inspired by the bands of the era. In many ways, Panic! surpassed the bands that inspired this record. When Ross and bassist Jon Walker eventually left to form The Young Veins, they carried this sound with them. Unfortunately, their biggest sin was nothing but timing.

Following A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out with this new sound was a dire mistake. The fan base craved the dark electro-pop that the band had created and the showmanship that oozed from it. As a result, a large portion of fans rebelled. Especially after the near dissolution of Panic! At the Disco, the blowback followed The Young Veins and never gave them the chance that they deserved.

On the other side of the split left by this record, Brendon Urie suddenly had an allowance to literally do anything he wanted. With Pretty. Odd. already in the band’s catalogue, he was free to explore nearly any sound he wanted to going forward with Panic! at the Disco. Without the restraints of fan expectation, Urie wrote some of the group’s biggest hits afterwards.

The sad irony is that had Pretty. Odd. been released as the band’s third album or later, after establishing their sound, they would have had a fan base loyal enough to take the journey with them. There wouldn’t have been the worry that the band had severed ties with what made people love them in the first place. Similar to how My Chemical Romance took on a new persona with each new album, Panic! at the Disco would have had an easier time rallying fans to Pretty. Odd. if they had a firmer grasp of who the band actually was. The shock wouldn’t have kicked in nearly as hard.

Pretty. Odd. is an amazing album that will truly never receive its due credit. The diversity of sound and surreal, dreamlike paintings throughout the record are mesmerizing in ways that no other band has been able to replicate. It is a shame that instead of having an anniversary celebrating this unique entry in their history, Panic! At the Disco has more or less hidden Pretty. Odd. beneath a mountain of top 40 pop songs and dance beats.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and first listened to Pretty. Odd. in a car full of groaning college kids. They have all since been eaten by alligators and small cats. The album survives.

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