Sound — 5
Panic! At The Disco burst onto the scene in 2005 with a "haven't you people ever heard of closing the god**** door." Consisting of singer Brendon Urie and lyricist/composer Ryan Ross (I promise you won't notice Spencer Smith anywhere on the record), "A Fever You Can't Sweat" was released on Pete Wentz's Decaydance Records (and, subsequently, Fueled By Ramen) shortly after the band's High School graduation (with the exception of Ross, a former college student). The previously-quoted "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies" launched them into fame primarily in the demographic best described as "tweenies", consisting of girls aged anywhere between twelve and seventeen. To the handful of people reading this with absolutely no knowledge of the band, they were indeed a favorite of followers of the mid-2000s "emo" movement, whether intentionally or not. Unlike somewhat more blatant examples (Fall Out Boy, The All-American Rejects, and My Chemical Romance), Panic! burst onto the scene with less emotional intent and more sexual interest. The result is an album that struggles between a mature narrative and an uncomfortably almost-too-young high school flavor. Identity confusion isn't the only weakness "Fever" suffers from. As mentioned before, the band has a hard time showcasing half its members; the record very much revolves around Ross and Urie. This ends up being most crippling in the lyrics department, though it vicariously interferes with musical strength as well; to be frank, there were not enough cooks in the kitchen. It seems that the oldest kid (Ross) and the "talent" (Urie) essentially took the reigns. As well as there being very little identity within the album itself, the band as a whole has a difficult time communicating just what kind of band they are a three-and-then-four-piece or something more along the lines of Nine Inch Nails, with perhaps a couple of composers but not necessarily a band in the traditional sense of the word. There isn't necessarily a problem with this, but it certainly seems to constrict input from the other guy he plays, but the music all has essentially the same suspiciously Ross-featuring-Urie taste. On that note, the music certainly boasts a pleasant stylistic variety. The first half is a fuzzy, electro/pop/rock/emo (how "emo" was determined and categorized at the time is beyond me) frenzy with dark-ish humor (sort of) and self-important rambling about "web-zines" and the like, where the second half (introduced with a charming but predictable interlude) is more representative of what Panic! is generally known for: vaudeville, macabre, and darkly theatrical sexual imagery. Despite the sure-to-impress-the-impressionable curve (more than one distinctive style on an album?! Impossible!), all of the best tracks end up on the second half (that is, the few cuts worth paying attention to), and the album's identity is only fully realized at that point. Everything prior to "Intermission" is sloppier sonically, lyrically, and in Urie's vocal performance. The opening "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage" (Fall Out Boy titles, anyone?) is weak and has little sense of where to go, (Urie's promise to "shake it up" is only too realized), "Time To Dance" is utterly painful (more on that later), "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines" (seriously, what's with these titles?) is bizarrely pretentious for a debut, and while "Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off" is decent throughout each of the verses, the choruses are truly irritating. Even with an interesting second half, "Fever" fails in all the worst places, sounding as immature as the high school graduates' frontal lobes. The tracks in each half either sound identical to or slightly worse than the rest, and it really isn't very pleasant listening it can be debated, for example, that a band such as The All-American Rejects doesn't sound terribly realized in earlier works, but at the very least, it isn't such a chore to listen to.
Lyrics — 4
I have a lot to say about the lyrical content of the record, and so I'll knock vocal performance out of the way. The comparisons between Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump and Brendon Urie are mostly inaccurate; Stump is influenced by soul artists, while Urie is more akin to performers in musical theatre. Either way, Urie is the less impressive. He sounds painfully sloppy on the earlier tracks (not helped by Ross overloading him with... well, words), and rarely (if ever) shines before the second half. The kid's just out of high school in this release, and so little is to be expected, but he doesn't necessarily disgust too terribly often. As I mentioned, it's hard to expect much from a couple of high school graduates and a college dropout - as in the case of Blink-182. Coincidentally, Panic! began as a blink cover band. I'll let you decide who had greater success at each respective age. Regardless, the smart move, one would think, would be not to release undercooked material especially from a band who had never once performed for an audience. Apparently, Panic! didn't get the memo. I'll spare you the hit-or-miss analytical rant and give a few tasty examples. "Sit tight, I'm gonna need you to keep time/Come on, just snap, snap, snap your fingers for me/Good, good; now we're making some progress"; "Applause, applause; no, wait, wait/Dear studio audience, I've an announcement to make"; "So we'll pick back up on that on another page"; "Well, we're just a wet dream for the web-zines/Make us it, make us hip, make us scene"; "Watch your mouth/Oh, oh, oh/Because your speech is slurred enough/That you just might swallow your tongue"; "'Cause that's just ridiculously odd" (or "on;" sources vary anyone have the book on 'em?); "Let's get these teen hearts beating faster, faster"; "Praying for love in a lap dance/And paying in naivety"; "Oh/Well imagine"; "Faux affliction... Faux sermons" (because a fancy word like "faux" needs to be used more than once); "When did he get all confidence?"; "Any practiced Catholic would cross themselves upon entering"; and, finally, "Haven't you people ever heard of/Closing the god**** door?" While there is nothing terribly wrong with a lyric-centric or even wordy album, "Fever" pushes buttons throughout; if you need an example, look above. In all seriousness, "Fever" is so obsessed with its own inner dialogue "I'm the narrator and this is just the prologue" and takes itself seriously enough "Panic, meet the press" that it's difficult to discern any real message or purpose from the songs. Yes, the themes are certainly present infidelity, suicide, and so forth but Panic! offers little insight or opinion. Examples include condescension towards corrupt religious establishment in "I Constantly Thank God For Esteban", but it is difficult to discern whether Panic! is part of the problem (and enjoying it), intends to punish those who are, or genuinely desires improvement (the least likely, though suggested in a somewhat facetious phrase). The greatest offenders are, of course, those suggesting that Panic! is some kind of a big deal. Had the record been any less successful, it would sound pretentious; as things are, it sounds like the asshole in front of you who won an arbitrary debate by a profoundly slight margin, yet insists upon celebrating it like he's won the lottery. Finally, "Fever" is often painfully descriptive (see some of the more narrative lyrics above), which tends to remove any potential emotional core from the equation. These aren't songs one relates to; the attitude, if anything, is the connective tissue of the record. That being said, those who will connect most deeply with Ross and Urie are jaded, condescending, bitter, somewhat educated, and profane. In other words, the polar opposite of their target audience. In this sense, "Fever" truly fails to reach anyone its lyricist has too much to say, is too superficial about it to attract a larger audience, (only pop culture reference save Panic! from alienating aforementioned 12-to-17-year-olds), yet only interests those he does because he demands nothing of them.
Overall Impression — 5
I don't think, nearly a decade and two albums later, that anyone ever believed Panic! consisted of a single musical genius, let alone was a brilliant act to begin with. Yes, it did its job in selling to a demographic large enough to bring attention to themselves (which, judging by the lyrics, was the band's only intent), but is entirely mediocre otherwise. The two styles are distinct enough to make the curve a nice twist (I don't know what I'd do if I had to review thirteen tracks of that messy techno/rock/pop/thing), but it isn't until then that the album becomes enjoyable. Until then, Urie is painful, the writing is just bad, the music is sloppy, and there really isn't much to enjoy when you put them together. Though it certainly isn't fair to compare to future releases - no one reviewing at the time of the release was able to, obviously - as much as it's been slated by Panic! fans (the same dedicated drones who somehow see merit in this mess), "Pretty.Odd.", whether redundant in the Beatlesey formula or not, is the strongest of the two. It knew what it wanted, it knew what it was, and it certainly wasn't trying to prove anything (with the exception of "you don't have to worry 'cause we're still the same band") or shove Panic! down your throat. Whether I think "Fever" is a load of crap or not doesn't change the album's sales, but it is important for a critic (I think) to put things like album comparisons into perspective. On that note, that is precisely what "Fever" lacks perspective. The band attempts to tackle subjects that are a bit mature for them, and though they certainly approach some of it with an interesting angle, this isn't an album of consequences; there is no opinion. Even a performer like Marilyn Manson, whose ultimate desire has been stated to step out of the teacher's chair and only challenge listeners to assess themselves (and, hell, most artists in some way attempt this), Panic! presents no such challenge. Most of the time, the record doesn't even state what it thinks. Sure, "Camisado" recognizes that drug addiction (or suicide or something) isn't a pretty thing, but offers no insight as to what the problem is, why it happens, or what solutions may exist. In the end, "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" only proposes that there is a sky, falling short of telling us just what it is.