Panic at the Disco: “Pretty. Odd”
Though their name might conjure embarrassing memories of the late 1970s, Panic at the Disco crashes straight into 1967 on their second record, Pretty. Odd, a beguiling and completely unexpected album that unashamedly apes Sgt. Pepper right down to the letter. In fact, it’s about as shameless a musical homage as you could imagine, filled with music-hall shuffles and cheerful British chamber pop, polite ballads and horn-laced jaunts, even a goofy declaration of intent that opens the album on a note bizarrely similar to the first track on Sgt. Pepper. It’s an album so utterly strange that it’s hard to tell whether it’s meant in earnest or as tongue-in-cheek; just when one wonders if the band is dipping into parody, they do something that’s either so seemingly sincere or so completely left-of-center that you’re forced to think that this isn’t the joke, just the sound of a bunch of emo-rock upstarts who discovered the Beatles late in life and now seek to imitate them with zeal and gusto. The fact that, well, that’s been done a few times before only adds to the bafflement here; there’s such cheerful sincerity here that it almost sounds like the band thinks Beatles emulation is something new.
But pay attention to the punctuation here-not the dropped exclamation point in the band’s name, but the period in the album title. This record isn’t pretty odd-it is both pretty and odd, and in fact it boasts both of those traits in spades. And as odd as it is-as utterly baffling and senseless as it may be-it’s also quite pretty, even exceedingly so at times. It is, after all, impossible to divorce the Beatles’ style from their substance, and, clueless though they may be, Panic at the Disco seems to understand what made the Beatles great, and so they don’t just imitate the style of Sgt. Pepper; they capture its tunefulness and its emphasis on melody, as well, which means that this album is loaded with hooks, and, more often than not, its strikingly lovely. What’s more, the band has retained its goofy, geekishly charming lyrics, and they even take a couple of opportunities to break out of the Sgt. Pepper mold and try their hand at Byrds-style country-rock on the funny, palette-cleansing “Folkin’ Around.”
So strange though it may be, it feels very much like a labor of love, with the band members throwing themselves into it and following their newfound muse with enthusiasm. They may be working with painfully familiar elements here, but there’s so much beauty, so much passion, and so much fun on display here that it feels as if these vintage sounds are being heard anew. It’s pretty odd, alright, but it’s also pretty delightful.