Capsule Review: “Pretty. Odd.,” Panic at the Disco

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April 1, 2008

2:10 AM

With their sophomore album, “Pretty. Odd.,” Las Vegas’s Panic at the Disco aims to reclaim the emo throne from Fall Out Boy.

The band has parted ways with its exclamation point in an attempt to shed the baby fat showcased on 2005’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.” Gone, too, are the bursts of drum-machine tinkering and lead singer Brendon Urie’s tongue-twisting verses. The band has from the bedroom confessional and into the mecca of recording studios — Abbey Road, where the album was mixed.

The first single, “Nine in the Afternoon,” wears its Beatles badge with pride. “Losing the feeling of feeling unique / Do you know what I mean?” sings Urie. ‘Nine’ is a teenager’s ode to discovering marijuana and the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” In an age where major labels scoop up bands like Boys Like Girls daily, it’s refreshing to hear a band that wants to crack the mold. Panic now rolls with a wall of (real) pianos, bells, horns and strings in addition to the usual guitars and drums. Somehow, it works.

The drug influence extends to cloying song titles like “That Green Gentleman,” but the lush soundscapes honed by producer Rob Mathes erase any missteps by these baroque-pop young’uns.

“Behind the Sea” channels Ringo a la “Octopus’s Garden,” with Ross exercising his surprisingly smoothe vocals, while “She Had the World” rips off George Harrison and “Piggies.” While the music brings to mind The Beatles, Panic still manages to carve out something new and original.

No song this year will be able to match the beauty and simplicity of “Northern Downpour.” Ross and Urie pine about “sugarcane” and “weathervanes” while bassist Jon Walker and drummer Spencer Smith chime in, building the song into a lilting elegy to the moon.
Critics and college students alike readily take aim at this band. However, there’s no denying that they’ve learned how to let songs breathe, discovering emo gold — it exists — on mid-tempo songs.

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