I can still picture it: I’m in middle school, on the bus on the way home from a long, strenuous day of being 13 years old. As I gaze out the window like my life is a coming-of-age movie, the Panic! At The Disco song “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)” blasts through my earbuds.
Honestly, I still listen to that song all the time. As I grew up, I realized more and more how much I have been impacted by what I listened to during my formative years. It was a lot of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco and Twenty One Pilots. Now, as an adult, I have come back around to this music for the nostalgia factor and was pleasantly surprised to find that I still really enjoy it. The more I listened, the more I realized that the “emo phase” we all went through was entirely justified. In addition, most of the music I listen to now falls under the same alternative, rock or punk genres. For the sake of clarity, this installment of justifying our emo phases will focus on Panic! At The Disco’s first three albums.
Most of the music characterized as “emo” was released in the early 2000s. I have found that most of the albums have central themes and aesthetics, which I admittedly don’t find very often in today’s music scene. Panic! at the Disco, fronted by Brendon Urie and heavily influenced by the songwriting and vocals of Ryan Ross, exhibits a wildly different theme from project to project. Their 2006 debut album “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” draws from cabaret-esque strings and accordions, almost to convey a feeling of unease. It is overtly sexual, highlighting scenarios of tension and attraction from the view of someone in their late teens or early twenties. The variety from album to album allows the listener to choose their own adventure, if you will. Each album follows the pattern of a complete rebrand and new sound, which takes immense creativity and skill to execute.
There are no two songs that sound the same on each album unless it is intentional: the ending of “Fever’s” “But It’s Better If You Do” fades perfectly into the beginning of the smash hit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” In addition, the names of each song are strategically placed: “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off” is followed by “But It’s Better If You Do” (with “Intermission” coming between them). I have always found this album captivating for so many reasons. The overall vibe is executed perfectly; each song tells a story and the placement of each song with its accompanying name creates a series of events that makes the album read like a play. Especially for a debut album, “Fever” is a work of genius.
2008’s “Pretty. Odd.,” their second album, showcases strings, horns, harmonica and more folk/bluegrass roots accompanied by complex lyrics that sometimes don’t make a lot of sense. It feels like a whimsical summertime in the countryside with a family of homesteaders who have accidentally discovered psychedelics and electric guitars. Ross contributes his vocals significantly more in this album, his grainy voice complimenting Urie’s range beautifully from song to song with the addition of a choir sometimes gracing the background of each track. The pattern of songs blending into each other continues in this album, with the opening track “We’re So Starving’s” piano beat moving right into “Nine in the Afternoon” and the guitar chords from “I Have Friends in Holy Spaces” playing into the beginning of “Northern Downpour.” If I had to pick one Panic! album to listen to forever, while it would be an INCREDIBLY difficult choice, I would probably go with “Pretty. Odd.” While I still love the depth and darkness of “Fever,” I love how light and exciting this album is. The harmonies are beautiful, the lyrics are complex and meaningful when they make sense and the creativity behind the instrumental choices never fails to leave me at a loss for words.
There is only one phrase that comes to mind when I try to describe “Vices and Virtues” (2011): steampunk bangers. The overall vibe for this album is darker than its predecessor, but has stronger themes of love as opposed to the lust portrayed in “Fever.” There are more rock elements with more prominent guitar riffs and vocal runs as well as the new use of synthesizers. Urie showcases his vocal range much more in this album and the ones that follow, as Ross had departed from the band and left Urie to have more creative control (although Ross had written a good amount of the album). He utilizes his lower vocals to create a base for his high notes, which compliment each other beautifully. “Vices” also has songs that blend into each other, providing a sense of familiarity between all three albums. There is a stronger beat in this one, creating a rougher vibe while still persuading the listener to headbang to the beat.
I decided to focus on the first three albums due to the fact that they were released around the early 2000s, which has been characterized for its prominent emo music. While I thoroughly enjoy the next two albums in Panic!’s discography, they have more pop elements than rock or alternative to be considered “emo.”
All in all, Panic! At The Disco’s creativity when it comes to aesthetics and attention to detail is incredibly impressive. They dabble in so many different genres while maintaining the label of being a rock band. There is so much depth and emotion to each song within the central theme of each album and it never fails to catch my attention and hold it until the last note. This band has contributed to my love of complex music regardless of whether the subject matter is light or dark and keeps me coming back for more.