So, success breeds expectations. This much is fact.
But just how lofty were they for the album that was to follow Panic! at the Disco’s enormous debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out? What is an indie band, whose first release sold a bajillion copies and made scene queens swoon the world over, to do?
With Pretty. Odd., the band did their best Beatles impersonation, an ode to whom many revere as the greatest band of all time – no matter the genre – but who I find to be tremendously overrated for reasons that may prove me a heretic.
It was an interesting decision for the Fueled By Ramen group, whose dancey, vaudevillian debut is a far cry from 60s-inspired rock. In making the leap to a different genre, the band dropped the exclamation point from their name, a fitting metaphor for their new, understated sound.
This punctuation abandonment reinforces the band’s maturation. Consider that Fever was recorded when the members were still in their teens and early 20s, which, if you’re counting at home, is the generally accepted stopping point for listening to that album without looking (or, if you’re the one listening to it, feeling) like a creep.
Pretty. Odd. is as royal, flowery and bright as the cover implies. It opens with “We’re So Starving,” a song that breaks the 4th wall with the lyrics: “Oh, how it’s been so long. We’re so sorry we’ve been gone. We were busy writing songs for you. But you don’t have to worry, ‘cuz we’re still the same band.”
It’s a strange hat tip to the group’s rabid female following (and the 10 dudes on this planet who aren’t me who will admit with a straight fact that they listen to the band), but is it necessary? I don’t feel it is. Wouldn’t Fever’s success have implied, or even cemented a second album?
Regardless, single “Nine in the Afternoon” follows, and it’s the first real glimpse that hey, this isn’t Fever 2. Upbeat piano, a lack of any real samples – actually that last note applies to much of Pretty. Odd. It’s almost a wholly organic retro product, even to the point that “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” opens with a needle drop, projecting as if through a gramophone, if you’re into that kind of thing. Later, “Pas de Cheval” takes on the Beatles’ electrified sound.
My judgment call on Pretty. Odd. though is related to the sincerity of the album. For a band that hit it so big with their first release, and with expectations at impossibly high levels, to attempt their best “audible bowl cut homage” is ballsy but reeks of commercial intent. It’s so damn saccharine at times, which will be disorientating for fans who had come to love Fever’s mischievous, sensual themes.
That doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable listen, because it is. I just really wonder if the band was more focused on making great music or great money.
Pretty. Odd. closes on the line “We must reinvent love” from “Mad as Rabbits.” At track 15, closing on a song with horns, a soaring chorus, ample harmonies, and a clap section is like conjuring up John Lennon and George Harrison at a seance. Good lord.
It’s also worth noting that after this album, the band again went a different direction on Vices and Virtues due to members splitting. Their 4th album is due out next month, and sounds like it will keep with the trend of… well, keeping with the trends. Curious. I’m onto you, Urie.
From Pretty. Odd., this is “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)” –
Standout tracks: “She’s a Handsome Woman,” “That Green Gentleman” and “The Piano Knows Something I Do”
Weakest track: “We’re So Starving”
RIYL: The British Invasion.