If emo’s third wave was its hair metal phase, then A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was one of its metaphorical centerpieces. By 2005, the DIY beginnings of the genre were so far away in the distance. We were long past the Get Up Kids’ breakthroughs of Something To Write Home About or Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. No longer did a band need to play in grimy basements and bars that skimped on payments. A mere demo could change the trajectory for wide eyed high schoolers and barely legal adults.
The kids had now crashed and infiltrated the major labels. Pete Wentz went from being a dude in hardcore bands to the leader of Fall Out Boy. And with that status came his own imprint: Decaydance Records. Wentz would go on to sign Panic! At the Disco, marking his first band on the label. At the time, all that sat on Panic!’s PureVolume page were some demos. But that was enough for Wentz to sign them.
After Panic!’s members graduated high school, they travelled straight to College Park, Maryland to record their debut. Even though they were recording on a budget, it far outpaced anything they’ve done before. Mind you, the budget was about 15,000 dollars, far surmounting any modern emo band. When recording the demo, there was no thought as to what is the best DAW to use. Garage band was the most accessible and therefore the only choice.
You would never think that these were newcomers when A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out begins. This is a band that is swaggering rather than limping. Singer Brendan Urie describes the opener as “fantasizing the what the fuck are we going to do about it if this band gets big.” It sounds absolutely ridiculous for a band that has never even played a show to even be concerned about getting big. But everyone at one point had the delusion of grandeur of rock n roll. It just happened that those worries were closer to reality than most.
Their interests were always much bigger than an underground scene could even support. And even if the club or basement scene supported them, Panic! had little if any concern for them. They were in direct opposition to it, having to hear Las Vegas bands “trying to do the post-hardcore or metal thing” in their practice space. Stadium bands, especially Queen for Urie were the biggest influences, where meekness would be swallowed up.
Instead the songs lived in grandiosity, creating fictionalized versions of themselves through dress up. Anything would do to create some separation from all the other white dudes trying to make pop punk songs. Creating a visual language still held importance. Music videos could still dominate the consciousness of prepubescent teens. Steven’s Untitled Rock Show would play I Write Sins Not Tragedies over and over. I still have the image of Brendan Urie in a top hat, fingers crossed over his mouth and his droopy eyes covering my television screen.
By design, the whole aesthetic was a bit campy. They would dress up on their first couple tours in full costume, committing to a bit that while recording they wanted to run away from, in favor of Beatles worship that would make up their follow up Pretty Odd.
And sticking to a vaudevillian concept was the right decision. The end result was a true mashing of influences. There’s a little bit of everything: baroque pop, a dance track interlude, string sections, synthesizers, and straightforward pop punk songs. But it’s Better If You Do, the third single is anchored by a piano, with guitars interspersed. Build God Then We’ll Talk starts off with a string section before moving into a traditional pop punk structure. I can list track after track but each has its own little quirks.
For all the reinvention, the tropes of the era were still on display. Chief songwriter Ryan Ross was still a doe eyed teenager. Camisado is a vengeful look at addiction, without some perspective that may come with age. “Just sit back, just sit back, just sit back and relapse again”. Or there is some of the general misogyny of the time in the song Lying is The Most Fun a Girl Can Have, which is written about the vitriol of his girlfriend cheating on him.
It’s now fifteen years later since A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’s release, and the pop landscape of 2020 makes Panic! sound tame by comparison. Smashing together your influences is the norm. Genre is less of a concern. 100 Gecs is obviously the best example, making hyper pop that sounds right at home at Warped Tour circa 2009, creating the same smirks of disdain that Brokencyde once did. Fall Out Boy was even on the remix album of 1000 Gecs. It’s at the least a nod towards the entire Fueled By Ramen scene and its collective influence.
Panic at the Disco! in 2020 is now ostensibly the solo project for Urie. The vaudevillian concept was abandoned by the time the second record came. Ross would soon leave over creative differences. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is one of those rare instances where all the bands’ collective influences converged, creating something that is wholly theirs and is now a snapshot of a band and a scene at its creative apex, before the implosion that would soon follow.