By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
[Fueled By Ramen; 2008]
Original Release Date: 3/25/08
Memorable tracks: “Northern Downpour”, “Nine in the Afternoon”, “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)”
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out by Panic! at the Disco was the first ever album I bought for myself. During then, I exhausted that album to the max, and I couldn’t wait for their next release. As a young boy stepping into a whole new realm of music, I remember surfing deep into YouTube for live performances of early versions of “Nine in the Afternoon” and “We’re So Starving”. First thing I noticed—as any Panic fan would at the time—was the deviating shift in style, and I hated it.
Fever will always be mine, but Pretty Odd scratched an itch that I never knew I had. Panic! at the Disco is widely known to flirt with different genres, but this Beatles-inspired, orchestra-infused baroque pop waltzes around its musical edges carefully from jangly folk tunes to spot-on vaudeville impressions. All reimagined with a touch of Panic’s essence, Pretty Odd, as the name suggests, is actually pretty damn odd.
I am, of course, deep down, unsatisfied with how Pretty Odd turned out as a sophomore album. Personally, a sophomore album should ideally be the best if not outstanding in an artist’s career. It’s a critical milestone of artistic success achieved by amplifying their strengths and re-evaluating their mistakes with progressive amends from their debut. Pretty Odd didn’t really suffice those standards for me.
I didn’t completely loathe the album—who could forget the catchiness in “Nine in the Afternoon” or the gratifying sense of nostalgia in “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)”? There were a plenty of lovable tracks on this album, but also forgettable songs that didn’t do me any justice.
“Nine in the Afternoon” is an obvious radio favorite. It’s the poppiest track out of the record, but I like it because it has a lot going on when closely examined; it has a subtle time signature shifts in the verses, a tight interplay between the rhythm section, consistent harmonies all throughout and orchestral instruments that hold the pieces together vibrantly. “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)” is overall a great, feel-good song that makes you want to sit down in the sun and reminisce the past but also savor the present.
“She Had the World” and “From a Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins” are my honorable mentions; they are underrated and often overlooked for its theatric essence, but they are beautiful modern vaudevillian soundtracks that I never knew I had a liking for.
“Northern Downpour”, adjoined by a playful interlude (“I Have Friends in Holy Spaces”), is arguably the best track on this record. Simplicity plays a huge role here—no fancy instrumentation nor structure. This is them breaking down music to its flesh and writing it just like the old days—straight from the emotion. But above all, “Northern Downpour” takes the cake for its undeniable warm, friendly demeanor. The calming and the comfort of this song is like no other Panic song released to date. Although the lyrics aren’t as eccentric and witty as Fever, they are nonetheless outspoken and poetic, fitting flawlessly with the delicate melodies.
“When the Day Met the Night” and “Pas de Cheval” are straight from the heart of the ‘60s, and “Behind the Sea” and “Folkin’ Around” fully embrace old-fashioned folk rock. It’s actually quite impressive to see them achieve these style tropes and not screw up; however, these tracks tend to be more forgettable because of its anachronistic nature, especially for a booming band that killed the radio with “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”.
Looking back… this album has definitely aged well. Pretty Odd is an acquired taste, especially for early fans and the then-Fueled by Ramen crowd, but it showcases Panic’s creative flexibility as a band to effectively experiment with different styles while maintaining originality. And in that regard, they did a fantastic job with that, creating a polished sound that you can truly call “mature.” In addition, the production quality of this album is absolutely phenomenal. Instead of applying modern production techniques, Pretty Odd takes on traditional methods to fully encapsulate the ‘60s feel, playing with panning and stereo space for all instruments. Surprisingly, it worked very well for this album and style, proving that going back to the roots are sometimes the best.
But here’s the problem: As mentioned earlier, Pretty Odd was not the best direction for a sophomore album; it threw people off too quickly at the time. To provide some background, Fever was mostly written by vocalist Brendon Urie whereas Pretty Odd was guitarist Ryan Ross’ magnum opus. It was a quick 360 to the band’s style in which the fanbase didn’t respond to accordingly. This was because the band started writing and finished their sophomore album after releasing their debut, but they scrapped the whole album last minute and started fresh, resulting in Pretty Odd. In that sense, Pretty Odd is technically their third album, and it should’ve been their third album. There’s a musical gap between the Fever and Pretty Odd, and the fans were left with nothing in between to bridge the gap, which failed them to “ease” into the sound of Pretty Odd. This kind of “discographic imbalance” had polarized many fans and eventually the band in the long run.
Regardless, Pretty Odd is actually a brilliant album that deserves more recognition and praise as it showcases the band’s creative potential and talent. It’s disappointing to see Panic! at the Disco as a one-man pop project now, but the talent is still there, and that talent couldn’t have been cultivated without the artistic ventures of Pretty Odd.