Twelve years ago, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, Panic! at the Disco’s debut album, was released to great commercial success. But what really made the album explode–and put Panic! on the music map–was the hit single “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” To this day, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is still revered by pop punk fans and is often viewed as one of the pop punk album classics.
But how well do fans actually know the songs on this album? I’m not referring to the lyrics and titles, though–rather, how well do fans know or realize just what these songs are about? Many may not be aware of the various pop culture references, or have picked up on the multiple references to Chuck Pahlaniuk books. This post is here to teach fans and non-fans alike a bit more about an old favorite.
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, released May 2005 under Decaydance and Fueled By Ramen, was recorded at College Park, MD and produced by Matt Squire. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out even hit #39 on Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Times (2016). A fun aspect about A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is that it’s musically split in two. The first half is more synthesized, while the second half utilizes classical instruments like accordians, horns, and even a vaudevillian piano (Sputnik). The intermission track in the middle perfectly blends the two sounds, providing a seamless transition between the two halfs to make the whole album work.
The first sounds we hear on this album is feedback, as if from an old radio. Snippets of music and dialogue are heard, including a bit of “These Tables are Numbered” and someone speaking Polish. The Polish bit, “…niemieckich spotkało się z szerokim rozgłosem w samych…” translates into “The Germans met with wide publicity in themselves”…and I have no clue why that specific clip was chosen.
This song is Panic!’s first ever single, and yet it’s a severely underrated track–most likely overshadowed by “I Write Sins.” “The Only Difference” is a criticism of artists, calling them out on their fame-mongering ways and their willingness to do anything just to get people to listen to their music. The chorus is the band promising to shake up the music scene. The song’s title is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s “Survivor,” also known as the book behind the film Fight Club (genius.com). The lyrics of this song clearly indicate that audience participation is required, which fits the song’s theme of a desperate cry for attention.
“London” takes the same path as “The Only Difference;” except this time, Panic! is criticizing the critics: particularly, how critics constantly push/expect bands to not be true to themselves and move on quickly. What’s interesting is that this song and its content are still relevant today–and completely ironic, considering that bands such as Panic! and Fall Out Boy are constantly criticized for moving on quickly and changing up their sounds, with a simultaneous expectation that they don’t stay the same over the years. The song title is another quote, this time from Douglas Coupland’s “Shampoo Planet” (“Extremely torrid tunage from London beckoned songs about money written by machines”).
Co-written by Ryan Ross, “Nails for Breakfast” talks about Ross’ struggle to not to follow in his alcoholic father’s ways. The lyrics describe a person in hospice who’s taking “prescribed pills/To offset the shakes/To offset the pills/You know you should take“–aka, they are taking more medications to offset the affects from the pills the person was initially taking.
Interestingly, “camisado” is the name of a military technique of ambushing the enemy in their sleep at night or daybreak. The song is yet another theme continuation, this time of “Nails for Breakfast.” This song expands on Ross’ father’s alcoholism, and his “inability to deal with his problems” (genius.com). “Camisado” vocalizes Ross’ anger towards his dad, talking about the “worst aspects of a hospital” and essentially telling his father “this is where you’ll end up, and the state you’ll be in if you don’t stop” (genius.com). Interestingly, Ross told Rolling Stone that while his father listens to the album constantly, “we haven’t talked about it directly,” although Ross is certain his father knows he is the subject of the song.
6. Time to Dance
“Time to Dance” tells the story of another Palahniuk book, “Invisible Monsters,” in which a transgender woman named Brandy is murdered by and at a fellow model’s wedding. The song includes various lyrical references to bits in the book (such as “Aubergine Dreams,” Brandy’s favored eyeshadow), and even quotes the book in lyrics such as “Give me envy, give me malice, give me your attention.” The song title is a Bible quote from Ecclesiastes 3:2: “A time to be born, and a time to dance.”
7. Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
“Lying is the Most Fun” is one of my favorite tracks off this album. It’s funky and darkly upbeat, with lyrics that are sexual and fun. This song is inspired by the film The Closer, starring Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, and pulls the song title from one of Portman’s lines. “Lying” is about cheating, as it’s largely based on Ross’ then-girlfriend cheating on him. This is a theme seen in the lyrics and also in the music video (click here for a full music video analysis).
The intermission begins with synthesized techno music, which plays for the first 37 seconds before cutting off abruptly to be replaced by radio static. What’s heard next is a sound bite from Orson Welles’ famous radio reading of The War of the Worlds–“Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to continue our broadcast of dance music. We shall continue now with our piano interlude.” This specific bit references the musical switch that occurs on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and is meant to allude to listeners that this is where the song changes musicality.
Like “Lying,” this song comes from another of Portman’s lines in The Closer. And third time’s the charm–“But It’s Better If You Do” is another case of song continuation, this time of “Lying:” two songs inspired by Ross’ breakup with a cheating ex-girlfriend.
My favorite comment on this song comes from Brendon, who mentioned in an interview how the first time he went into a strip club, he ended up running into a girl from elementary school who proceeded to dance to this song. “But It’s Better If You Do” is about a lonely guy in a strip club who doesn’t want to be there. In the music video, though, we see a guy going to a strip club without his wife’s knowing…only to discover his wife is one of the strippers.
While not the first single off this album, “I Write Sins” was the song that put Panic! At the Disco on the music map. Even today it’s still an emo classic, and I have seen people of different types and with different music tastes sing every word to this song at the top of their lungs when it comes on. “I Write Sins” is “an involving, memorable and catchy retelling of a wedding day gone wrong” (Sputnik). The song title is another quote from Coupland’s “Shampoo Planet” (“What I write are not sins; I write tragedies“).
The song title is a joke, based off a line from an infomercial for Esteban guitars. The song itself “is a statement about hypocrites and liars, disguised as a criticism of religion” (genius.com). Learning that little tidbit about “I Constantly Thank God for Esteban” made me start listening to the song differently–it makes you take another look at the lyrics, and listen a little closer to what they’re saying.
Brendon Urie told Billboard that they chose long song titles because “a lot of bands in the scene were doing cool stuff like that, so we took it a step further.” Oh, and because they saw Fall Out Boy did it and thought “oh, that’s fun.” Yes, a reason Panic! has long song titles is just because it looked fun–is anyone surprised? “There’s a Good Reason” is a comedic song telling the story of someone–in this case, Ryan Ross–ruining the “perfect” night of a woman who pretends to be someone she’s not, purely for revenge. The lyrics describe Ross using psychological warfare to undermine the other guests–such as forcing them to remove their fancy attire so only he’s nicely dressed, instantly elevating him above everyone else. Ross continues to destroy the party by lacing cigarettes, spiking drinks, and as the song title eludes to, he numbers the tables so he can find this girl and harm her. (Now enjoy this gif of a fetus Ryan and Brendon.)
The closing track talks about prostitution and cheating, and the false realities of love one who indulges in either may create. The lyrics reference Fremont Street, the second most famous street in Las Vegas, where several major casinos are located. “Build God” also samples “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music in the chorus, and puts a negative, mocking twist on this list of likable things. “Build God” is a twisted song, blending vaudevillian music with sexual storytelling lyrics to create a song that hooks you in. The music video, however, is so freaking weird that I honestly don’t know what else to say about it.
Like what you hear? Great! Want to hear something else? Check out Panic! At the Disco on Spotify to hear the full range of their music, and maybe you’ll like something else by them! To keep up with Panic! during the Death of a Bachelor Tour, go follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check out their website for tour updates, images and more.
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