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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Reflecting On: Panic! at the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out

panic-at-the-disco-2005

During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

In the fall of 2005, Panic! at the Disco came out of nowhere. Just saying it doesn’t carry the full weight of that sentence. No one had heard of this band – no one had seen this band. Their debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, appeared on the Fueled by Ramen/Decaydance label, the home of Fall Out Boy, Paramore, The Academy Is… and Gym Class Heroes. It was basically a printed ticket to modest fame.

You can but A Fever You Can't Sweat Out on iTunes.

You can but A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out on iTunes.

It wouldn’t be easy to become one of the top bands on the label, but without any proper touring experience, previously-released EPs or available demos, Panic! took over the rock world like a firestorm with the release of Fever and the monstrous single, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.

Panic! at the Disco is a dreamlike success story. Legend has it that one of the band members found Patrick Stump after a Fall Out Boy concert, handed him a demo tape, and then Pete Wentz personally flew out to Las Vegas to sign the band. If any of that is true, I have no idea, but it’s cool to think about.

Panic! had something special about them that rose above the rest of the Fueled by Ramen crew. Their songs had the hooks, wordplay and instant memorability of Fall Out Boy, mixed with relentless digital and techno overtones backing the flaming power chords. The dreary, macabre nuances, the likes of which only teenagers and kids in their early twenties are able to create, added a mystique to the band that made them utterly irresistible.

The concept of Panic! at the Disco originally set up to be a themed stage act from Vegas. The album cover featured an array of burlesque dancers, and although I never got a chance to see them, rumors of their live show swept the scene; tales of a circus act, stilts and a crazy light show the band brought with them on stage. Plus, the persona on magazines and music videos of young men dressed dashingly with creepy, painted faces made them hard to ignore.

Not only was this band impossible to avoid, it was impossible not to love them.

The allure of pop punk in 2005 was that the bands were finding new ways to make music harder, make the songs catchier, and make the lyrics sexier and immediate. The song “Introduction” was nothing more than the sound of an old fashioned radio scanning the airwaves, with the fleeting message of “Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present a picturesque score of passing fancy” followed immediately with the lines of “Sit tight, I’m gonna need you to keep time / Come on just snap, snap, snap you fingers for me / Good, good now we’re making some progress / Come on just tap, tap, tap your toes to the beat” in the impossible to remember, but aptly titled song, “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”. It was the first we heard Brendan Urie’s voice, and the perfect first few sentences to ensnare a generation of music lovers.

This song, and its title, were important to the band in many ways. For some reason, at this point in time, incredibly long song titles that usually had little or nothing to do with the actual contents of the song were made famous by Fall Out Boy, and Panic! followed suit. While not as outrageous or random as FOB, Panic!’s “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage” always impressed me by how perfectly it personified the band.

Taking a Vegas stage idea and transforming it into a pop punk act, accelerating rock music with techno beats and adding a gaudy dark emo personification, could only work if everyone was watching with interest. Otherwise, the band would look like yet another wannabe king of the emo rockers from the early 2000’s. Without the coverage that the band received almost immediately, the effort put into the stage act, the song writing risks, and the danger of being a headlining band that had barely played any shows was almost certain to prove not only suicidal, but build resentment amongst fellow bands and label-mates.

But the writing was right. It was captivating and spoke directly to the audience (“The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”), alluded to the fact that the band wasn’t ready for this level of fame, so they’d better “Back their shit up”, (“London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines”), invited them to dance (“Time to Dance”) and concealed the overtones of classic, old-fashioned jazz (“There’s a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of It Yet”).

The fact that this album caught everyone’s attention with the amount of foreshadowed grandeur and glory is no surprise; that a group of kids with no experience as a band managed to pull it off and maintain that image is nothing short of a miracle. They managed to write an album with each song capable of being a massive single on its own, create a unique image, and learn how to be a headlining band while on the road.

A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is a miraculous album. All things considered, with the innumerable amount of ways that this record should have collapsed in on itself from an inexperienced band, and the ways that touring and playing these songs live should have turned off the fan base, seeing Panic! at the Disco rise above it all added to the legend that seemed to grow within months of the record’s release.

Unfortunately, the band did eventually collapse with the departure of every original member, eventually becoming the solo project for Brendan Urie, who was forced to learn how to write songs, lyrics and how to play every instrument in order to maintain the majesty that A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out established. The legend surrounding it is one of the greatest stories not only in the scene, but in music as a whole.

It might be impossible to know exactly how the band came together, how they got their beak with Decaydance, or how they managed to create a behemoth from nothing in front of much more experienced bands, but that doesn’t take away from what the album is.

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 has been violently addicted to Panic! for ten years running. IS THERE NO WRONG THEY CAN MAKE?!!!