by Olivia Mastrosimone
It’s been a decade since the pop-punk powerhouse Panic! At the Disco released Pretty. Odd., their divisive, psych-pop-inspired sophomore album. Ten years ago, Panic! At the Disco was coming down from their breakout fame after A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out went platinum, ushering the Las Vegas band into emo stardom in 2005. After being the unofficial kings of the pop-punk scene for less than three years, Panic! decided it was about time they grew up. Looking back, Pretty. Odd. was an ambitious, albeit somewhat pretentious, attempt by Panic! to flaunt their newfound musical maturity and shed some of the cynicism and callousness that had brought them their success.
Where A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is verbose, dense and of questionable quality – in other words, emo – Pretty. Odd. is basically the exact opposite, and Panic! knew it. The flowery, Beatles-esque album opens with frontman Brendan Urie singing “Oh, how it’s been so long, we’re so sorry we’ve been gone… you don’t have to worry ‘cause we’re still the same band.” Despite the a disclaimer, fans and critics didn’t buy it. Pretty. Odd. created the great pop-punk schism of 2008, splitting Panic! fans into diehard emos and the open-minded emos. Fellow alt-rock stars My Chemical Romance were going through similar genre overhauls with Welcome to the Black Parade, and it was apparently too much for fans to handle. Pretty. Odd. barely managed to go gold, which, compared to the success of their first release, was pretty lousy.
The album’s only successful single “Nine in the Afternoon” sounds like the B-side Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band never had, with blaring horns and sweeping strings layered under Urie’s delightful harmonies. The Beatlemania continues on tracks like “Pas de Cheval” and “The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know,” with their infectious, retro hooks and witty lyrics. When the band isn’t showing off their Brit-pop chops, the tracks take on a more dreamy and youthful feel. Although some songs, like “Northern Downpour,” a melancholic ode to the moon, may have just been too slow and too dreamy for fans of the pre-flower power Panic! to get behind.
Contrasting the hyper-sexualized and severe lyrics of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, the songs on Pretty. Odd. focus unashamedly on love – finding it, keeping it, and reflecting upon it. The band takes quite a childish approach to love songs, though. Take “When The Day Met The Night,” which tells the tale of the sun falling in love with the moon. Lyrics like “When the sun found the moon, she was drinking tea in the garden” make some tracks on Pretty. Odd. sound straight out of a nursery rhyme. However, there’s a thin line between endearing naivety and contrived childishness, and Panic! has trouble staying on the right side of it on the second half of the album. “Folkin’ Around” is a failed attempt at a love song and a pun, and its western feel seems overly-indulgent. “She Had the World” is 2008’s pop-punk emotionally immature anthem, with Ryan Ross, the band’s former heartthrob sidekick, confessing over uninspired harpsichord, “I don’t love you, I’m just passing the time”
Ten years out from Panic at the Disco’s foray into psychedelic pop, we can see through the turbulent public reception and appreciate Pretty. Odd. for what it really is: a great attempt by young artists to break out of the pop-punk box put up around them. Their effort is as valiant as it is relatable – remember in high school when you wanted to seem more mature so you exclusively listened to sophisti-pop? Pretty. Odd. is the album embodiment of that phase. As Urie sings on “That Green Gentleman,” “Things have changed for me, and that’s okay.” That line wonderfully sums up the entire album. If you should take one thing from Pretty. Odd., it’s that change can be messy at times, but it’s not something to be afraid of.