A review of the album ''Pretty Odd'' by Panic At The Disco
Review Snapshot: A badly-misjudged attempt to break free from the emo standard that collapses under the weight of its own platitudes - every sub-genre of sixties pop music used on Pretty Odd has been tackled before, and in ways vastly superior to this effort.
The Cluas Verdict? 3 out of 10
It was a few years ago that a wave of bands, loosely connected by nothing more than a misused genre name, broke out from the marginal sidelines and became exceedingly popular. Amongst them were Fall Out Boy, Funeral For A Friend, My Chemical Romance, The Used, and perhaps most popularly of all, Panic At The Disco. While fans of original emo hardcore bands like Rites of Spring rightly pointed out that little connected the “scene” (that had all the hallmarks of a press-created subculture) except for clichéd lyrics of disquiet and despair, it quickly caught on as a genre description apt for misapplication. The stereotype that these groups write only of misery and maladies may disintegrate under further listening, but still the perception remains the same, despite the repeated denials of members that they are part of any genuine emo movement.
At times though, it seemed like the bands brought it upon themselves. Panic At The Disco’s debut album was the commercially successful, critically maligned A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. This reception sums up well its amalgam of unimaginative standard instrumentation, by-the-numbers electronic elements and crowd-pleasing, self-referential, swept-in-romance lyrics. Like a formulaic film designed to soothe rather than challenge, it sold in large numbers to those eager for instant gratification, but for the most part fell flat with critics taking a more analytical approach to its content. So what of their next release, Pretty Odd? Does it follow a different path, more original and daring? The answer is: not really – ostensibly the outer trappings are completely different, but the end result is much the same. What it does show is a band eager to destroy any association with the fabricated world of emo, with no sixties sunshine motif too saccharine.
It doesn’t take long before the meta-references of old arrive. “We’re So Starving” opens the album in an apologetic way: “Oh how it’s been so long/We’re so sorry we’ve been gone/We were busy writing songs for you.” These lines are accompanied by the sounds of a screaming crowd, seemingly foaming at the mouth for the return of the band. As the opening shot of the album, it likewise makes it clear where the album is heading as a whole, beginning with a guitar/strings combination a million miles away from A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.
As the album goes on, the influences become even more pronounced. The trappings of The Beatles, The Byrds, The Kinks, etc (think of any of the Summer of Love’s leading lights and they’ll fit in here) are all here; the impeccable strings, horns, random sound effects, and treated instruments adorn every song, as if rolled out from an assembly line (in fact “The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know” includes the most obvious of touchstones, the flute mellotron). And that’s the problem with Pretty Odd as a whole: it sounds forced and formulaic, as if PATD perused a genre description of “psychedelic pop” and made an album based on their findings. This perception isn’t tempered by the contrived zaniness of lines like “Clouds are singing a song/Marching along, just like they do” or “When the sun found the moon/She was drinking tea in a garden/Under the green umbrella trees/In the middle of summer.”
However, there are a few interesting moments on the record. Many of the melodies are undeniably catchy in a laboured way, and it’s hard not to like the blatant Beatles pastiche of “Behind The Sea.” The orchestral arrangements also sound fantastic in places, such as on “Do You Know What I’m Saying” and “She Had The World,” which they provide some pleasantly colourful moments. These fleeting instances of inspiration suggest that PATD could have created a far superior album, had they chosen to use such elements more wisely.
“You don’t have to worry/’cause we’re still the same band” states “We’re So Starving.” It’s an honest statement from a group that comes across more as a blank canvas than a real musical collective. It would be sad if Panic At The Disco descended into Madonnaesque reinvention with no substance, as there does appear to be able musicianship in the band that could be put to far better use, but that could well be their fate judging by this album. The reality is simple: beneath the ornate instrumentation, the melodic pop hooks, and the strained attempts to emulate every sixties subgenre to a tee, there remains a gaping void where the creativity should be. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out may have sounded cut-and-dried at the time, but every reference on this album to sunny days or clouds (a self-conscious reiteration of their plea that they are not emo?) makes me yearn for an electronic break, lovingly encased within a ridiculously long song title. It would be vastly preferable to Pretty Odd, composed as it is of vacuous songs resting within the vestige of every sixties cliché imaginable.
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