Panic at the Disco is the kind of Las Vegas band that forces tug-o’-wars between emo kids and indie-rock fans. On one hand, they have bombastic choruses and long song titles. On the other, their new Pretty. Odd. was mixed at Abbey Road Studios, opens with a Sgt. Peppered welcome (“We’re so sorry we’ve been gone/We’ve been busy writing songs for you!”), and sounds drenched in Beach Boys sunlight.
Neither camp really has to worry, though, as P.O. will satisfy any hunger. Single “Nine in the Afternoon” is a psychedelic marching-band anthem as operatic as any My Chemical Romance black parade. Morrissey could’ve written the self-loathing “Do You Know What I’m Seeing?” with its “I know it’s mad, but if the world were ending, would you kiss me or just leave me?” entreaties, placed against an upbeat Britpop melody. “Northern Downpour” is softly strummed, and when he sings “For diamonds do appear to be/Just like broken glass to me,” frontman Brendon Urie’s voice is a luscious instrument, navigating through strained sentiments.
Still, somewhere around the down-home “Folkin’ Around,” you can’t help but wonder how real P.O. is. “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces,” after all, has a vinyl-affected tone and riverboat instrumentals. It’s as though PATD are more Fredric Jameson–ian pastiche than band, more postmodern confluence of eclectic styles than monolithic document. Their opening declaration that “you don’t have to worry ’cause we’re still the same band” is suspect. This is a world away from “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Off Her Clothes” or anything else from their feverish debut album.
While this schizophrenic genre-hopping produces some brilliant songs, it’s hard to grasp the narrative strand running through it. Bouncing from the fiddles of “Folkin’ Around” to the harpsichord on “She Had the World” is a brave choice, considering this album’s young, fickle audience. Those hoping for an emo bloodletting are going to think PATD are taking the piss, despite their narratives of girls “dancing fancy pirouettes” and smoking “tragic cigarettes.” For those willing to get past the album’s disjunctions, though, P.O. reveals a band grappling with its identity, fleeing from the tread paths of the Killers and the Fall Out Boys of the world. There may be a deep coat of irony smeared about here, but in the end, Pretty. Odd. is exactly what it says it is.