Ten years ago, who would've guessed that emo would usurp punk as the genre du jour for angst-ridden teens. By the late 1990s, most fans of the genre's second wave were abandoning it. Many of the best bands had split up, while the handful that were left were moving toward a more straightforward pop rock sound. But just as it appeared over, the scene suddenly exploded, giving birth to an entire new generation of slick, generic, mall-store neo-emo. It's like the bartender yelled last call, the house lights came on, and then at the last minute, he decided to keep the club open all night serving Cokes. So now, 20 years after Rites of Spring's only full-length album was released, we've arrived at Panic! at the Disco's A Fever You Can't Sweat Out.
Where does one begin to describe this steaming pile of garbage? You've already seen the ridiculous name, so let's try a few of song titles on for size. Track two is called "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage", and it's followed by "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines". If those don't quite do it for you, check out "I Write Sins Not Tragedies", or my personal favorite, "Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off".
But of course, the asinine song titles and the moronic band name have nothing on the actual songs. The usual guitar, bass, and drums are augmented by drum machine beats and synths that would be more at home blaring over the P.A. at your local gym than in anything one might consider enjoyable music. The production, handled by Matt Squire, a guy who is certainly no stranger to radio-friendly emo, is slick and polished. Vocalist Brendon Urie's impassioned, warbling vocals are so strained it's as if he might just burst into tears at any moment. This poor guy's heart must get broken on a daily basis or something. And if it wasn't bad enough, someone convinced him to add some fancy effects on a track or two that make it sound like someone is lightly karate chopping him across the throat while he sings.
The lyrics are just the sort of vague teen heartache you'd expect. In "Camisado", Urie croons, "You're a regular decorated emergency/ The bruises and contusions will remind you what you did when you wake," sliding up to a falsetto while keyboards shimmer behind him. In "Time to Dance", which utilizes some sort of poorly realized gun-as-a-camera metaphor, he belts out, "When I say shotgun, you say wedding/ Shotgun/ Wedding", and "Give me envy/ Give me malice/ Give me attention/ Give me a break." Yeah, you and me both, kid.
It's sad that this is what emo has become. The genre's always had some irritating characteristics, but this newest batch of heartbroken heartthrobs has managed to build their careers solely out of those characteristics. The whining, the emotionally exposed lyrics, and the passionate choruses are there, but there's no sincerity, creativity, or originality.
-Cory D. Byrom, November 29, 2005