The beginning of the new millennium was a pretty odd time for music.
During the last few years of the decade, hip-hop had slowly climbed its way into the ears of the mainstream as the dominant genre of secular radio. Heavy metal had finally recovered from the nu-metal movement. Good old fashioned rock n roll got a boost thanks to the indie scene. The death of alternative rock in the late 90s gave way to all sorts of sub-genres. A popular band in the latter part of the decade was Panic At The Disco.
Panic At The Disco formed in Las Vegas sometime in 2004 and landed a record deal on before playing a single live show. Pete Wentz, the bassist of pop-punk outfit Fall Out Boy had heard a demo online and almost instantly signed them to his Fueled By Ramen label. The following year, Panic At The Disco released their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.
Panic At The Disco became a mainstream success overnight.
In my early 20s, I had no interest bands like Fall Out Boy or whatever pop-punk band the mainstream pimped. I straight up hated Panic’s hit song “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies“. Their flashy videos, boyish good looks, and getting signed to a major label before playing a proper gig, just reeked of fabrication to me. This was not my scene, and being I was over the age of 15, it wasn’t meant to be.
Fast forward to 2008 I heard “Nine In The Afternoon”, the lead single from their sophomore album Pretty Odd. I had no idea it was Panic At The Disco. The whiney, running vocals and synthetic beats of the previous record were missing! This song had an Electric Light Orchestra vibe like “Mr. Blue Sky” for the current generation.
Pretty Odd was a different kind of pop-punk record. One inspired by the 1960s.
After gaining popularity seemingly overnight, Panic At The Disco decided to craft an organic album instead of a cash grab. You have to remember, this album was released during the MySpace age. It was one thing to become mega-stars before releasing an album, but it took serious bravery to make such a departure on the follow-up album.
From start to finish, Pretty Odd is filled with Brian Wilson inspired compositions and Beatle-esque melodies like a modern-day Sgt. Pepper. I purchased the album and was instantly floored by their artistic progression. Outgrowing the pre-destined pop-punk model in one albums time, Panic At The Disco became an interesting band to me.
Sadly, Panic At The Disco’s core fanbase wasn’t as impressed as I was.
Although debuting at number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts and selling nearly 60k in its first day, Pretty Odd failed to captivate the teenage market like the debut. Critics were lukewarm as well, praising their growth but questioning their authenticity. Most critics claimed Panic At The Disco’s sonic ambition was cold and calculated given how young the band was.
Here it is nearly 10 years later and the album still holds up. Panic At The Disco (unsurprisingly) dramatically changed their line-up, sound and live show after Pretty Odd failed to meet financial expectations. I didn’t like them before this album and liked the following albums even less. But for a moment, Panic At The Disco gave me hope. A newer, mainstream pop act was brave enough to record an album with ambition and prowess. Choosing to emulate the style and performance of The Beatles, Beach Boys and Electric Light Orchestra instead of taking the easy way out. It was a bold move that didn’t pay off and ultimately steered them away from venturing off the pop path on future endeavors.
In recent years, the album has reached a kind of cult status with older listeners giving it a proper chance.
At this rate, it could even be my generation’s Pinkerton in terms of post-popularity. Even if that’s not the case, I’m impressed such a mainstream critical failure holds up so well and sounds just as interesting in 2017 as it did in 2008. Each and every song features an infectious vibe that never fails to lift my spirit. It’s a criminally underrated, psychedelic record that strangely remains one of my favorite mainstream pop releases of the last decade. That’s saying a lot coming from me especially coming from a band I otherwise loathe. The album is in fact pretty odd, but in the most wonderful, unexpected way.
Pretty Odd is available on all streaming services, and on vinyl from Fueled By Ramen