On The Record: Catastrophe Averted
Let’s just get this out of the way right at the top: This week’s Bigger Than the Sound is based almost entirely on uninformed opinion, wildly inaccurate speculation and blatant conjecture. No attempt was made to verify the, ahem, “evidence” I am presenting here, nor were any outside sources contacted for this week’s column. No facts were harmed in the making of this installment.
And I know that you’re thinking something along the lines of “So how is this BTTS different than anything else you’ve written?” and, truth be told, you’re probably right. I’ve never let a little thing like “irrefutable facts” get in the way of a good column(which, in a way, makes me a lot like the Bush White House … or some of the artists I write about). But I wanted to preface what I’m about to say with a caveat, so you don’t think I’ve been drinking at work again.
When we were in Vegas for the VMAs, we caught up with Panic! at the Disco, who were plenty nice and and even took us to their favorite hole-in-the-wall taco joint. And while we were blowing through burritos and whatnot, we spoke a bit about their upcoming, yet-untitled second album, the making of which, as I wrote last week , “has been about as well-documented as it has been confusing.”
Sessions initially started in a Nevada cabin, then moved to Los Angeles and finally back to Vegas, at which time the songs the band had written — and even played live (you can sorta hear one of them, apparently called “It’s True Love,” here) — were totally and completely ditched in favor of, as guitarist Ryan Ross put it, “songs in the most basic form.”
Little is known about the songs Panic scrapped, except that: A) the guy who wrote them (Ross) keeps using phrases like “film score,” “complicated and challenging” and “love story” to describe them; B) someone, maybe the band, maybe the powers-that-be (who clearly realize that there’s an awful lot riding on this record), made the decision that they would never see the light of day; and C) they could possibly be the most fantastically amazing things we’ll never get to hear.
See, there are very few things I enjoy more in this world than a good, old-fashioned, career-crippling, completely crazy concept album. Seriously. I’m fascinated with utterly insane records like Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans and Styx’s Kilroy Was Here (or even Rush’s 2112, though I’m not entirely sure it really qualifies as a “concept album”). I sit around wondering who thought it would be a good idea to make an album like Aphrodite’s Child’s 666, which is based on the Book of Revelations, or Kiss’ Music From “The Elder,” which seems to be loosely formatted around a film that Gene Simmons thought up (but, you know, never actually filmed). Shoot, I’ll even listen to the Fiery Furnaces’ Rehearsing My Choir or the Early November’s triple-disc (!) The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path — both terrible albums — just because I appreciate nothing more than a good audio train wreck.
And by all accounts, the second Panic! at the Disco album was shaping up to be perhaps the train-wreckiest of all. In fact, I’m sort of ashamed that I didn’t pick up on this fact sooner.
Consider the following: Panic have already shown a flair for the, uh, dramatic (mimes, face paint, name-checking Danny Elfman, etc.). Plus, they’ve never exactly been taken seriously by critics, which means that they probably headed into that Nevada cabin with both a bucketful of bizarre ideas — something Ryan Ross alluded to a year ago when he told me the new album was “a modern fairy tale” that takes place “in a mixed reality, in a place that’s not real” — and the always-dreaded something to prove. Now, take all that potential, add to it the pressure a young band must feel when it has to follow up a breakout debut disc, and stir in the idea of four kids spending an inordinate amount of time by themselves in a log cabin, with no one to tell them what to do — or not to do. It’s almost like some sort of perfect storm — a mixture of inexperience and ego and idealism and isolation that could have birthed the most terrifically terrible concept album of all time.
And I think that it bears mentioning that perhaps I am being too hard on Panic, a bunch of kids who wrote an album when they were teens that just so happened to make them incredibly famous. I genuinely think there’s quality to Ross’ writing and a unique dynamic between him and singer Brendon Urie. They are also — to offer up perhaps the most backhanded of compliments — certainly not the worst band in the world. That said, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume that those who have active interests in Panic are probably breathing a lot easier since the first version of the second album was shelved permanently.
And maybe I’m completely wrong about the album we’ll never hear. Perhaps it would have been a rather straightforward little excursion. But I sincerely doubt it. All I know is I’m 10 times more excited to hear the record Panic didn’t make rather than the one they’re making now. And it seems like a shame that we’ll never know just what Ross and company were doing in that cabin for all those months.
But I can always dream. Perhaps someday, someone will find it in their heart to release the songs, sort of like a Basement Tapes for the MySpace generation. And after re-reading that last sentence, perhaps I do need to start drinking at work again.
B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week
If My Chemical Romance ever starred in a movie, it would probably involve a scene where they overestimate the musical acumen of their core audience, then release an ambitious, Queen-inspired rock album that fails to live up to industry expectations (see “Do My Chemical Romance, Kanye West Or Christina Aguilera Have What It Takes To Be Movie Stars?” ).
International heartthrob Jim Broadbent added to the red-hot cast of “Harry Potter and the Never-Ending Rainbow of Cash,” or whatever the hell it’s called (see “Harry Potter’s Newest Teacher: Jim Broadbent To Play Horace Slughorn In ‘Half-Blood Prince’ “ ).
Over the course of just 523 words, MTV News Hip-Hop Editor Shaheem Reid manages to wish Swizz Beatz a happy birthday, talk up his collection of fine art, mention some upcoming tour dates and drop a mention of Martin Lawrence — amazing (see “Swizz Beatz Offers Some Investment Advice At NYC Birthday Bash” ).
Questions? Concerns? Concepts? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.