Yesterday Panic! at the Disco released two singles from their upcoming album Pray for the Wicked. Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of their second album Pretty. Odd., an album that never really gets discussed. We decided to talk about it.
Writing about 2008’s Pretty. Odd[i]. is an fittingly odd undertaking: It’s the only album to be released under the moniker Panic at the Disco (no exclamation point)[ii]. It’s the last P!ATD album to see the band consist of four members[iii]. It’s also their least appreciated album by fans, but also probably their best. Now that Brendon Urie is something of a popstar in his own right, it’s odd to remember there was a time when Panic at the Disco made a pandering indie-rock album.
What’s most important to know about Pretty Odd was how much it was Ryan Ross’ album. Even though Urie’s trademark theatrics certainly were present, the 1960’s fetishism is all Ross; as is evident in first, his taking lead vocals a number of times, and second, the work he’d do in The Young Veins. Seeing where Panic! would go, it’s apparent Urie couldn’t be in a band with Ross[iv]. Both are large creative forces, and the indie-rock, psychedelia-minded Ross would clash with Urie’s pop theatricality. The album lacks the same identity that A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was built on. Letting Ross sing lead made for many more bland songs. His pretty and plain voice doesn’t have the same reach or playful nature that Urie’s does. Pretty Odd sees Ross trying to re-write Sergeant Peppers, and it’s really successful in that sense. The most clear line is “We’re So Starving” stating “We’ve been busy writing songs for you” is practically the Billy Shears intro to “With a Little Help from My Friends.” It’s a crisp and clean recreation of a variety of styles from that era. Ross’ fingerprints are still all over the album. The two tracks that were written entirely by Urie sound like demos left off of Fever. The songs that the band worked on as a whole sound like people struggling for creative control, and the rest are mainly penned by Ross. It’s no shock that the band would go back to their Fever sounds on Vices & Virtues; Pretty Odd was a Ryan Ross project. This is probably most evidenced in the fact that the only song Urie will ever play from Pretty Odd now is “Nine in the Afternoon,” which was the biggest hit.
None of this Beachy Boys and Beatles fondness is really negative either. These songs are some of the most radio-friendly songs Panic ever wrote. These are much easier to digest than the circus and electronic sounds of their debut and later albums. “Northern Downpour” seems to predict the mainstream folk revival that would lead Mumford & Sons to unlikely success only about a year later, which paved the way for The Lumineers and a pre-pop Ed Sheeran. Cutting down on the unironic emotions and theatrics could only please critics. This album is tight with harmonies, and it feels more detached from its subject matter than Fever or any album Panic! has released since then. Looking at this from a purely critical perspective, the only album that may rival this one would be Death of a Bachelor. “She’s a Handsome Woman” recalls 60’s pop, early 00’s indie rock, and grunge all in one. Most songs like “When the Day Met the Night” or “She Had the World” contain elements that wouldn’t have been shocking on any gratuitous indie rock hit or even a Father John Misty album. Let’s be real, most Panic! albums are a little messy. It’s part of their charm, but Fever, Vices, and Bachelor are all like pastiches of theatrical emo. Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die is a concise ode to Vegas, but it’s not nearly as singular as Pretty Odd. This is a super digestible album that fits for people who just want to hear some good tunes, thus its critical success.
The real place where Pretty Odd suffers is in its lyrical content. Originally conceived as a concept album, it showed that Panic at the Disco couldn’t do what My Chemical Romance did on The Black Parade. This wasn’t billed as a concept album, but some of it does trickle through[v]. Ross had always written a ton of the lyrics, but Urie’s delivery of them was always earnest. Pretty Odd cuts out all of that glee. The only moments that Urie sounds like he’s really having fun is during “Folkin’ Around” or “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces.” Now that the band is just Urie, he only plays “Nine in the Afternoon,” but that’s just because it was a hit. This album lacks the quirky phrasing and cultural references that have come to be synonymous with Panic! in both young and old fans.
Pretty. Odd. turns ten this weekend, and yesterday Panic! at the Disco released the first singles from their upcoming sixth album. It’s probably again an album that’s entirely Brendon Urie’s. Now that the band is solely Urie’s, he’s really done a lot to distance himself from Pretty Odd and Fever. Still, the band’s legacy is based in Fever. The band had developed a rabid fanbase that craved bizarre music and wild live shows. Pretty Odd was the most bold move the band could make for their sophomore album, and that’s why it’s mostly shunned by people who came on for Fever. It’s an album for critical music fans, where Panic! fans were looking for something to tie heartstrings to. Seeing Panic! in 2017 was surreal, because I expected it to be filled with people ages 20-25. The audience felt like the majority hovered from 12-16. They were more interested in Too Weird or Bachelor, but they still found those same elements that I found in Panic! at age 11. Now that authenticity isn’t the only thing I search for in music, Pretty Odd is easily the best Panic at the Disco record, but the band doesn’t make good records. It makes insane collages of music that shouldn’t work but turn out great.
Pray for the Wicked comes out in June, and it’s the second solely Urie (probably) album. In this era of Panic! at the Disco, Wicked really seems like it’ll be a fitting counterpoint to Pretty. Odd. The first two singles are much cleaner than Death of Bachelor, and the band is even farther removed from the emo rock they cut their teeth on. Still, unlike Pretty Odd, it doesn’t feel like a risk. It feels like the next logical step. While the band doesn’t need to chase the success of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” anymore, they’ll keep releasing left-field pop music, and nothing will ever be odd again.
[i] Punctuation is always optional when discussing Panic[(!)…] at the Disco.
[ii] Any references to the band from the Pretty Odd album cycle won’t have the exclamation point, but any other eras will, dig?
[iii] Following Pretty Odd, founding members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker formed the band The Young Veins. Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith proceeded to tour and record as Panic! at the Disco, but Smith departed following the release of 2013’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die. Urie is now the sole member of Panic!, recording all the instruments for 2016’s Death of a Bachelor.
[iv] Or other people.
[v] As mentioned before, it’s a re-creation of Sergeant Peppers.