When I discuss musical maturation or evolution, I seem to inherently think about good bands pushing their boundaries and becoming great bands. I think I’d loop Radiohead in that category (going from Pablo Honey to OK Computer in the course of three albums is pretty crazy), and I would argue that Of Montreal certainly fits such a label (moving from cute pop to cerebral psychedelics is very noteworthy). In making such evaluations, I seem to disregard the “crap” rock out there. I would never anticipate any band currently in rotation on MTV (if they still play music) to drastically shift their style. Quite simply, it’s a matter of economics: if they can keep putting out the junk that people like, they’ll sell records. So imagine my absolute surprise when one of the most offensive bands this side of Fall Out Boy decided to make one of the best albums of last year.
There I was, innocently playing NHL 09 when one of the soundtrack songs caught my ear. It had a delightful piano and an excellent vocalist. Upon reading the description text at the bottom of the screen, my jaw dropped. Panic at the Disco? Clearly this was a mistake. Their terrible debut managed to squeeze out more terrible emo that I think the GDP actually dropped. Shallow songs, poor songwriting and annoying costumes made the band offensive to everyone in ear- or eye-shot.
But there was this song. “Nine in the Afternoon” was simply excellent. Clearly this had been a mistake. I decided to investigate further and I found generally positive reviews for this latest album. I did a double-take. Had professional reviewers lost their minds?
So I decided to take the leap and try this album out. It all started nicely with a decent homage to the Beatles as the band announced their arrival (a la Sgt. Pepper). This song segued into “Nine in the Afternoon.” Beyond having great piano, the song ends in some of the most refreshing brass this side of “Life in a Glasshouse.”
And then the next song didn’t suck. “She’s a Handsome Women” opens with very inviting guitars and moves into a brilliant vocal delivery from Brendon Urie. The whole thing rides on a rolling guitar and threatens to disassemble at any point. But it doesn’t.
Quite simply, Pretty Odd manages to defy nearly every expectation I held for Panic at the Disco. The whole first half of the record represents one of the best efforts I’ve heard from any band. Interesting lyrics, actual musicianship and perfect vocals carry this album to heights that few pop bands can envision.
By the end of the record, it actually comes as a disappointment to see the band coming out of the stratosphere. The last four songs, while still entertaining, do not hold up to the standard established in the first eleven. Realistically, stopping the album after song eleven would result in Pretty Odd competing for second place on the Best of 2008. But, even with the slight slip, this record is deserving of high praise.
Pretty Odd finds a terrible band shedding their past sound and embracing relevant music and complex songs. Quite simply, the new version of Panic at the Disco now stands alongside Vampire Weekend as bearers of the Pop Music Torch.
The greatest praise I can offer this album? I cannot wait to see what they do next.