Review Summary: Losing the feeling of feeling unique.
Though it’d be far more than just redundant to recount the history of Panic!
at the Disco’s rise to fame, it’s hard not to think back on 2006 and the sour taste all the propaganda has put in our mouths. The simple A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out
would cause multiple continental shifts following its 2005 release, leaving fans and detractors on separate isles: those that found Panic! innovators; those that found Panic! a fun pop band; and those that found Panic! generic bullsh
it with two left feet, an insatiable love for theatrics and 100 wpm tongue twisters. (Note: I fall firmly into the “fun pop band” category.) And yet, somewhere between 2006’s news of a new album with a different sound and the baffling news of the band scrapping their work for something less challenging, Panic at the Disco became a new band. Sporting a Name Taken lyric without the theatrical emphasis, Panic at the Disco were poised to release the peculiarly titled Pretty. Odd.
’s first single, “Nine in the Afternoon,” fresh with video et al. And here may be where Panic’s biggest change came into view: full of Shakespearian imagery, a shrunken title, and sporting smiles lost on the flat sexuality and awkward maturity of singles “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and “But It’s Better if You Do,” “Nine in the Afternoon” found Brendan Urie & Co. having actual fun.
Which, of course, brings us to the wildly speculated release, Pretty. Odd.
, a title that toys with the same kitschy punctuation the band tried to shy away and which proves that old habits are hard to shake. That’s fine and dandy, considering that the album’s intro, “We’re So Starving” (which is just a more robust version of the song media ringleader Pete Wentz tried to play off as a joke) promises us that Panic “are still the same.” “We’re So Starving” is cute in that superfluous way, drawing the album’s first taste of baroque styling without being overpowering, leading right into the album’s first single, “Nine in the Afternoon.” Sporting a well-worn Beatles influence, “Nine in the Afternoon” stands tall as the album highlight, turning into a lovely and personal group sing-a-long and instrumental fadeout. The problem here then is that the rest of the album is left to flail around wildly without anything to look forward. And that, frankly, isn’t much fun at all.
Let’s back up a moment and look at the important picture: Panic at the Disco have matured as full-fledged musicians, ones that have grounded their influences in respectable sources. But they have digressed as songwriters, wearing the threads of their influences without properly channeling. What we get then are a mish-mash of ragtime, The Beatles, and jarring folk roots without ever a singular voice of their own. After a while, Pretty. Odd.
starts to make a strong case that even Fever
had one, and that’s pretty odd. The best that can be said for Pretty. Odd.
is that it sticks close to its carnival atmosphere, turning tricks with the stylistic hammering of an Alice in Wonderland
novel. The quiet, woodwind interlude into “The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know” retains that fairy tale creepiness that made the fables memorable, but it is awkwardly shoved aside for a more obvious, horn-shuffled pop-rock number. “Behind the Sea,” besides simply being a lost Beatles tune from Sgt. Pepper
, has a solid, dreamy quality that works in its diluted-tempo’s favor, giving Ross a chance to shine as the center of the vocals. And even if it’s purely gimmick, “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” has the vinyl popping, ragtime feel down pat, aided by Urie’s harmonious vocal melody.
More often than not (and this is the kicker, ladies and gentlemen), Pretty. Odd.
is just pretty dull, from the Brit-rock influenced “She’s a Handsome Woman” (which shares as much in common with current scene rockers as it does its classic origins) to the flourished strings and piano melody of “From a Mountain the Middle of the Cabins.” The country-tinged “Pas de Cheval” lifts its mood straight out of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” while Ross’ centerpiece “She Had the World” is plucked with medieval orchestration that is more laughable than impressive. The indie rocker “Northern Downpour” could have benefited as a more understated acoustic number, and instead falls flat under its guitar slides and Urie’s odd vocal inflections. On the bright side, “Mad as Rabbits” sends the album on a slightly higher note as a clap-oriented ‘70s rock outfit with a new wave funk, hinting at a more stylized formula than its derived predecessors hinted at.
As far Ross’ turn as a lyricist this time around, while he still lacks the Morrisisms that make Fall Out Boy so memorable, he’s no more down-to-earth. He lifts the folk-mockery “Folkin’ Around” above its stereotypes with an earnest rhyme scheme (“Allow me to exaggerate a memory or two / Where summers lasted longer than / longer then we do”), and “Mad as Rabbits” almost gets cheeky in its unknowingly self-referential imagery (“Paul Cates bought himself a trumpet from the salvation army / But there ain't no sunshine in his song”). Still, sometimes Ross fails to edit his own silly imagery (“Piano” states: “I wont cut my beard and I wont change my hair / It grows like fancy flowers but it grows nowhere”) but he covers his tracks with one fell swoop (“I can’t prove this makes any sense but I sure hope that it does / Perhaps, I was born with the curiosity of old crows”).
It’s “Nine in the Afternoon” though that gets the finest treatment, building a promise that one wishes Pretty. Odd.
could have kept. “Picking up things we shouldn’t read / looks like the end of history as we know” could possibly be a humorously pokes at the backlash the band got for the influences they wrought, and it’s easy to see the band slaving away within the line, “into a place where thoughts can bloom / into a room where it’s nine in the afternoon.” It’s enough just to laugh along with the self-nudging, “Back to the street, down to our feet / losing the feeling of feeling unique / do you know what I mean?” But at the end of the day, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if one of the members had simply said, “Does anyone else realize that we walked right into another gimmick?” Unfortunately for the overlong Pretty. Odd.
, that isn’t very odd at all.