You couldn’t go on AIM in the year 2005 without seeing a lyric from Panic! at the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” or “Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” in an away message. Panic! at the Disco had put their deliciously emo stake in the music scene with A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, a fast, snarky record rippling with clever, shade-filled lyrics that earned them a wide teenage audience. Their debut launched the band onto the music scene with a very specific brand: catchy emo-pop with overly complicated lyrics and a reputation for circus themes (thanks to the Nothing Rhymes with Circus tour, natch). When they returned three years later with a new look and no exclamation point, they had something completely different: a psychedelic rock/baroque pop record that pleased critics and in a lot of ways, confused their fans.
Sophomore album Pretty. Odd., which guitarist and principal writer Ryan Ross described as “a modern fairy tale with a romantic twist,” was born in a rural Nevada cabin after the band had scrapped the entirety of their previous work-in-progress. This new album was way closer to the works of the Beatles and the Beach Boys rather than that of their emo-pop brethren, something which confuses some fans to this day. The band’s sound had evolved, incorporating new instruments for a more layered sound, including horns and strings that were later added during recording sessions at Abbey Road.
Their exclamation point-less name and about-face in tone was introduced with the first single, “Nine in the Afternoon.” “Nine in the Afternoon” is a cheerful, effervescent track about being high that opens with a bouncy piano–wildly different from their debut’s darker, sarcastic fare. While fans were sad to see the exclamation point go, the song itself was welcomed with radio play, a spot in Heroes, and inclusion in a myriad of video games. The song achieved double-platinum status and gave Panic! their highest charting single in the UK to this day.
Third single “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)” continued along the same bright lines. The opening line calls back to the album title (“Things are shaping up to be pretty odd”) and discusses being okay with change–a message that is as much for themselves as it is for fans. The lyrics are as expressive as anything on Fever but with a far more cheerful and optimistic tone. Of course, this song is also another reference to weed, but these things have layers.
“Northern Downpour” was perhaps the biggest surprise from the album. It was the first ballad the band had ever released, as well as their first love song. Written by Ross and Walker, “Northern Downpour” is dedicated to their girlfriends, their experience touring together, and “everything that [was] important in the past few years,” according to Ross. Arguably, it’s still the band’s prettiest track, receiving high praise and drawing comparisons to the Beatles. At the time, MTV News argued that “Northern Downpour” was “probably the best thing Panic will ever do.” A little early to declare, but it’s still certainly one of the band’s best songs–unfortunately, one that is no longer played. Critics also applauded the song for showing a new side of Urie’s vocals, one lacking the cockiness of his Fever work that turned some of them off.
While few of the songs on Pretty. Odd. have an obvious connection, the weather motif in “Northern Downpour” is fairly present throughout. The cloud-filled “Do You Know What I’m Seeing?” has Urie and Ross saying, “You know it’s sad that I never gave a damn about the weather/But it never gave a damn about me.” “When the Day Met the Night,” another pretty song about polar opposites falling in love, earned the album further praise. The song was said to have been about Ross and his then-girlfriend Keltie Collen, but deep into fandom you’ll find people who take the song as proof of a relationship between Urie and Ross.
One thing to note about Pretty. Odd. was the emergence of lyricist Ryan Ross as a more prominent vocalist. While Ross wrote the entirety of their debut, he took a backseat to Urie when it came to singing. Pretty. Odd. has him both as duet partner to Urie on songs like the Alice in Wonderland-inspired “Mad as Rabbits” and the gorgeous “She Had the World.” He’s the principal vocalist for the first–and last (at least for his time in Panic! at the Disco)–time on “Behind the Sea,” the intensely whimsical sea shanty about his creative process.
Pretty. Odd. also marks Urie’s debut as a solo songwriter, with two of his tracks landing on the final record. Beginning with the scratch of an old fashioned record player, “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” is a little ditty that features some Vaudevillian-style clarinet and trumpet, further rounding out the album with a touch of jazz. Now his use of the word “holy” seemingly foreshadows the religious references enmeshed in his later works like “Hallelujah” and “This is Gospel.” on the other handl, the folk-inspired “Folkin’ Around” is a funny track that paints a cinematic picture of a doomed summer romance, giving his early works his patented twist of humor.
Pretty. Odd.’s critical reception was mixed. Many praised the maturation in sound, specifically in the classic rock vibes and difference in vocals. On the other hand, some critics claimed the album sounded more like they’d been studying their father’s music collections and playing back what they heard rather than having their own unique sound. While Pretty. Odd. was received better critically, fans weren’t necessarily coming to it in the same way. Compared to the double-platinum sales of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Pretty. Odd. underperformed commercially. Still, the album spent eighteen weeks on the Billboard 200 list, with “Nine in the Afternoon” going double-platinum.
One of the most obvious results of the Pretty. Odd. era was the resulting split in the band. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith decided to stick with Panic! at the Disco for the third album, returning to their roots and growing their original sound in a more natural, cohesive way. Their follow-up album, Vices and Virtues, returned the band to their alt-rock roots but expanded instrumentation to develop a fuller sound. The album gave Urie the opportunity to grow as a songwriter while continuing to experiment with new sounds and influences–something that has served him well. Panic! at the Disco continues to grow in popularity with five studio albums to date, the most recent of which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in January 2016.
As for Ross and Walker, they went full-on baroque pop with The Young Veins, a short-lived retro-rock outfit inspired by ‘60s rock and pop. They released the album Take a Vacation!, which included covers of artists like the Everly Brothers and Brenda Lee, and went on tour with the pop-rock band Rooney during the summer of 2010. They went on indefinite hiatus a few months later to explore solo careers and production work.
In some ways, Pretty. Odd. is exactly what the band set out to make: an album with no clear direction except to expand their musical talents and influences. The boys played around with a myriad of new instruments and musical styles, some that stuck and some that didn’t. While it was a bit too much of a departure from the band’s original sound for some, it allowed the boys the freedom to explore other sounds and influences, growing their musical repertoire and allowing for further experimentation in future projects–like the clear Sinatra influence on the most recent Panic! at the Disco album, Death of a Bachelor. Their work on Pretty. Odd. primed them to meet their next challenges, albeit ones on two different paths.