[30 October 2006]
There’s a saying that sarcasm is dead, and no wonder: a band like Panic! At the Disco come out with titles like “There’s a Good Reason These Tables are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of it Yet” and “Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off”, and people don’t have the common sense not to take them seriously!
Fueled mostly by the breakout of Fall Out Boy, as well as the ever-changing industry trends and ‘flavors of the week’, the debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is one of the most immediate and catchy releases of the year—it’s even better than Fall Out Boy in the fact that it incorporates a wide range of different instrumental sounds, and it’s nowhere near as bad as many outside the band’s fanbase would have you believe. The band stuffs as many sugary hooks and quotables as possible into its creation—“When I say shotgun / You say wedding / Shotgun wedding / Shotgun wedding”, “Can’t take the kid from the fight / Take the fight from the kid”, “Haven’t you people ever heard of closing the goddamn door?”, “What a wonderful caricature of intimacy”, “Let’s get these teen hearts beating faster”—and there’s no denying that this formula, old-fashioned as it is, works; indeed it’s scrutinized and ironed out to an excessive extent on the disc. Over the top of it all is Brendon Urie’s high-pitched squeal; in truth, he’s not a great singer when it bottles down to raw conviction, but it’s the way he delivers the many phrases and quips (be them about sex, their underapprecation, or a rather distorted social commentary) that makes A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out a treat. And sarcastic—read, you’re not supposed to take it with a straight face.
In fact, it seems like a valid complaint to say that there are too many hooks on the disc, and that they tend to blend together after repeated listens, something the flawless first-rate production does nothing to foil. Present also are all the ambient bits to separate the action, in the form of a danceable introduction and intermission, respectively, and trips into nigh obsessive synthesizers (“Time to Dance”, “Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks”) and, of course, the infamous cello prelude to “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, the storyline of which has become something of a sub-culture in tongue-in-cheek of late, but which the airwaves have sadly killed. The real problem, though, is that it lacks the energy it holds when performed live—you don’t pick it up from casually playing A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out through, but it sounds canned and greasy after you’ve experienced the real thing. Which tracks appeal most is really down to personal taste, as it’s very, very difficult to find fault with it based on either the catchiness or vibrant, colorful lyricisms. But the band is at its strongest on elegant chants like, “I Constantly Thank God for Esteban”, which features an acoustic guitar (to much relief, I might add), shunned single “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage”, which goes through the motions with ease enough to make the Killers look like mere paperweights, or on mock sensitivity in “Lying is the Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off”, (that’s a synthetic tin whistle beneath Urie’s wonderfully wacky wails).
The band shows something increasingly rare in the modern music world in the latter half of the release, too, and that’s awareness of the song writing. Urie and Co. shelve melodic ideas and return to them ad libitum; this is shown in “There’s a Good Reason These Tables are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought of it Yet”, as brassy and intense as pop gets, which borrows a theme originally imposed in the “Introduction”. It’s things like these that considerably add to the continuity and consistency of the record. Yet Brendon Urie, as an alert and quirky singer, knows that something’s not quite right. And he says it, quite plainly, on “London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines”: “If you talk / You better walk / You better back your shit up / With more than good hooks ...” (This later goes on to cynically examine the means by which bands became famous). He’s not the kind of frontman who oozes emotion behind his instantly likable personality. There are no let-ups or even slow moments on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, either, meaning that there’s nothing to keep it from being, well, an hour of rather cheesy emo music, and something that may not hold up in the course of a few years. However, as the album continually emphasizes, right now is the time to worry about Panic! At the Disco and the undeniable stir its causing, and the record is certainly a flurry of fun and enjoyment, something for the band and us to remember when, in a few short years, it comes to the task of writing the difficult second record.