Panic at the Disco - Pretty. Odd.
Two years ago, emo was riding high in the charts with Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco winning themselves armies of disaffected young teens sure to regret their fashion choices in a couple of decades' time. The last group in that list, despite their aesthetic and ridiculous song titles (seemingly a staple of the genre), occasionally showed flashes of inspiration on debut album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out; amidst the glossy angst, there were moments that sounded like Danny Elfman kicking back at an electro-cabaret. Despite this, they didn't win the admiration of the majority of 'serious' music fans and were famously bottled at Reading Festival. Well, it appears they don't take criticism lightly, because in a move that will either make those bottle-happy folk eat their words or simply gather more ammunition, they have ditched the exclamation mark and apparently eaten their parents' collective record collection. The result is Pretty. Odd. which has more in common with SFA's technicolour psych-pop than the latest black-clad teen heartthrobs. Apt title then...
Impossibly, there's a lot here that works. 'You don't have to worry because we're still the same band' they assure us on intro We're So Starving but ignore them because the first full track takes us out of the first album's sweaty burlesque club into strawberry fields. It is the gloriously overblown Nine in the Afternoon, which sets the tone with its Sgt. Pepper orchestra and stupidly happy chorus; the lyrics are, admittedly, a bit rubbish but you'll be too busy singing along to really notice. Pop pomp is the order of the day, When the Day Met the Night and new single That Green Gentlemen (Things Have Changed) both sure to brighten up the lives of those fond of harmony-drenched, string-laiden Brian Wilson pop. Brendon Urie's pretty-boy nasal voice may grate after a while but guitarist Ryan Ross does a good line in Brendan Benson on a few tracks, taking the lead on Behind the Sea's fusion of marching drums, handclaps and 'watermelon smiles' and 'waves of wooden legs'. The lyrics are whimsical throughout, furthering the 'down the rabbit hole' tone. Occasionally, couplets that pair 'hair' with 'nowhere' may raise a snigger but my preferance will always be with imagery of clouds marching along over generic 'I love you' tosh.
Perhaps inevitably though, the overindulgence of the Abbey Road bells, whistles and a whole lot more besides eventually drains the listener. Misfires include a pair of poorly-conceived oddities, I Have Friends In Holy Spaces and Folkin' Around, which attempt to take us through the backwaters of Mississippi. By the time you reach the big finale Mad As Rabbits, you'll be begging for a bit of stripped-back simplicity. Indeed, it will be a treat to see how these songs are performed live, such is the complexity of the arrangements and instrumentation. Will we be treated to brass, clarinets and harpsichord in a musical extravaganza to match the size of these songs? They would do well to try it, as they would be keeping the theatrical bent that was all over the first album while continuing to surprise the critics if they manage to pull it off.
As someone who sat on the fence before, finding more to criticise than embrace, this brave switcheroo has endeared me to Panic a hundred fold. I wonder though, if the the girls and boys sporting eyeliner and silly haircuts will adapt to such a U-turn? It's true that it's nothing more substantial than a giddy retro-pop throwback but, especially considering youth is on their side, there is much more accomplished stuff here than anything on the Feeling's new album. The change in genre could be considered cynical but, with so much on the line, I genuinely believe this band has ambitions that may surpass this record. Whether they come to fruition, who knows? But at least this may open the ears of some naive teenybopper who currently has 30 Seconds to Mars on her stereo. For that, they deserve bouquets rather than bottles.