Review Summary: Pretty. Underrated.
Written in a cabin deep in the mountains of Nevada, one might expect that Panic at the Disco's follow-up to their massively successful debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out
, would be something a bit woodsier, a bit more mature. Largely influenced by earlier rock bands such as the Beatles and a wide variety of genres such as folk music and bluegrass, Pretty. Odd.
dispenses with annoying pop hooks and their origins as a Fall Out Boy cover band for a far more interesting sound and a diverse musical palate.
The record is filled to the brim with lush instrumentals, and “Nine in the Afternoon” aptly encapsulates Panic at the Disco’s ability on this album to blend solid musicianship with pop, probably more than in any other they’ve put out. They manage to sound completely different but still close to A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out in a way that divided not only their fans, but many critics as well. Recently however, the album has been viewed in a more positive light.
The most impressive thing about the album is its ability to take the sounds of a generation before them and imbue them with a sense of their modern passion, constantly switching sounds and ideas without ever sounding out of place or pretentious. In fact, Pretty. Odd.
is the most pleasant and humble album Panic has released, and when combined with its eclectic and expansive sound the fact becomes even more surprising.
“The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know” perfectly encapsulates this, sounding at once familiar but strangely original. There’s something dangerous lurking right behind the sweet strings and strained vocals, something that subverts its influences and becomes its own. “Folkin’ Around” flawlessly merges Panic’s sound with classic sounds of Bob Dylan and bluegrass, creating an engaging listen.
Much of this stylistic change is due to the shifting tastes of the man in charge, Ryan Ross. He wrote every song from the previous album, and still wrote the majority of the songs here, albeit with this new direction. He would leave immediately after the album along with bassist Jon Walker in search of this folkier old-fashioned rock sound, as drummer Spencer Smith and singer Brendon Urie were determined to take the band closer to the “polished pop” sound that the original album was working towards.
Despite not writing all the songs singlehandedly this time around, Ross’s influence is even more dominating on this album than the previous, his vocals are present on all of the most gentle songs, such as “Northern Downpour,” “Behind the Sea,” and “She Had the World.” All three exhibit wonderful lyricism (particularly “Behind the Sea,” with the line “We’re all too small to talk to God” provoking thought without turning to pretension), and his voice features a more folky quality that contrasts nicely with Urie's on this style of music.
It still retains some faults of the original, such as the repetitive lyrics on “Do You Know What I’m Seeing?” and a bit-too-flashy pop-punk melodies. Urie’s solo writing spot “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” only goes to prove why he wasn’t the lead songwriter during this era. The structure at the album is also greatly at fault; I’ve never seen a record so bottom heavy in my life. The latter half of the album is ridiculously better, and aside from the aforementioned “Nine in the Afternoon,” the first half is mostly unremarkable--if still a large improvement from their debut.
After the gorgeous ballad “Northern Downpour,” things take a turn for the better. We’re immediately brandished with the epic horn-laden “When the Day Met the Night.” It’s a propulsive song thanks to a mysterious guitar lick and shimmers with an extensive string section. It’s something to behold, and is easily one of Panic’s greatest achievements as a band. From then until the closer, we’re treated to their best streak of great songs to date.
While Pretty. Odd.
might have just been a detour in the musical journey of Panic, it manages to be the most musically diverse and impressive album they’ve released yet.