In order to not crack a smile when first hearing "Nine in the Afternoon," the kitschy, "Penny Lane"-inspired single from (Now! Exclamation Point Free) Panic at the Disco, one would either have to be inherently joyless, or a writer for Pitchfork Media. This giddy anthem about a magical room where "thoughts can bloom," is every bit as stupidly clever and cleverly stupid as a perfect pop single should be. And best of all, not even a Level VIII Thetan could have seen it coming.
Even though PATD used to dress like Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York and prance around like Freddy Mercury's Mormon nephews, the band just didn't make very interesting music. Strip away the string-heavy intro, and their breakthrough hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," sounded just like every other jittery, emo-by-numbers act clamoring for the kids' attention.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the cutout bin. Instead of playing it safe and putting out a second album that sounded every bit like their 2.2 million selling debut, the band took a magical mystery tour into the mountains of Nevada (literally!), and returned with an album that couldn't be more out of line with the times if it were only available on vinyl and 8-track.
The pretty, odd result (conveniently titled Pretty. Odd.) is currently the #2 album in the country. That a bunch of attractive 20-year-olds with a hit album already under their frocks landed at #2 should not come as a surprise. What does come as a shock is what this album sounds like. Gone are the crunchy guitars and cumbersome, "OMG! Y R U making out with him!" sentiments of their debut. In their place are horns, harpsichords, sleigh bells, and playfully TechniColor lyrics that haven't seen the top of the pop charts in almost 40 years.
As far as unexpected directions go, it's hardly Metal Machine Music, but a successful young act ditching the "ca-ching" sound of Fall Out Boy for the orchestral majesty of the Beach Boys doesn't happen every day. Even weirder is that fact that in its first week out, 140,000 people (plenty of whom are still in high school) purchased an album with song titles ("Nine in the Afternoon," "That Green Gentleman," "Do You Know What I'm Seeing?") that sound like catchphrases from an Austin Powers movie. And I mean that in the best possible way.
So now what? Will Panic at the Disco's fans be able to handle the fact that their favorite band now sounds at home in their Dad's Ppod? More importantly, can the band pull off the Timberlakian feat of transforming from cutie pie teen idols into critical darlings? So far so good on both accounts, and things should only get more interesting from here. Assuming they don't spend too much time in that room where it's nine in the afternoon.