Pretty Odd – Panic At The Disco And The Strange Death Of Emo

The departure of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker, guitarist and bassist with vaudevillian emo dandies Panic At The Disco, is being presented by the two remaining members as an evolution of the band, not a ‘split’.

“We are all excited for the future, you should be too,” read the upbeat official announcement.

This seems wildly over-optimistic, given that Ross was the band’s chief lyricist and creative driving force.

The son of a dissolute alcoholic, Ross is a sensitive soul whose early songs were florid, tongue-tripping, and (for someone so young) surprisingly literary, referencing contemporary authors such as Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk.

He gave Panic At The Disco a measure of depth and nuance. Without him, the Las Vegas band will be just another pop-punk band with a dwindling audience.

We should have seen it coming. Panic’s bizarre choice of covers on last year’s festival circuit – The Band’s ‘The Weight’ one week, Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ the next – suggested a band with radically divergent tastes, running scared from the scene that spawned them, desperate to affirm their ‘adult’ rock credentials.

Meanwhile, the plinky, tentative manner in which they delivered those songs suggested an inexperienced school band who’d been caught up in a cultural moment – the emo boom of 2005-6 – and weren’t quite equipped to deal with the tornado-blast of popularity that followed.

Which is hardly surprising: their debut album ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’ was recorded before they’d played a single gig.

The result was a second album, ‘Pretty.Odd’, that was pig-headed in its refusal to please Panic’s young fans. A kaleidoscope-eyed love-note to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, it was a deeply unconvincing record, neither passionate enough to appeal to emo kids, nor well-crafted enough to gain a new, mature audience.

Predictably, it bombed. A courageous attempt to ‘educate’ their fans? Perhaps – but Panic’s fanbase was not sturdy enough to withstand the shock, and the millions who bought ‘A Fever…’ simply melted away.

All of which highlights the wider flimsiness of the emo genre. Most of the scene’s leading lights are now operating in reduced circumstances. Fall Out Boy are currently supporting Blink-182 in the US. Meanwhile, UK emo fest Give It A Name was forced to downsize in 2009. History may well look back on My Chemical Romance as the only band who truly transcended the limits of the genre.

Meanwhile, Panic At The Disco vow to continue, while the departed members “embark on a musical excursion of their own”. This may be true – and good luck to them. But let’s be honest: the signs aren’t encouraging, are they?