Consider the source

I heard that Panic! at the Disco covers Radiohead's "Karma Police" in their live sets, but until a few days ago, I had yet to hear a live recording of them doing it. Well, there are several versions available on YouTube (here's one that's pretty decent-sounding for a bootleg) and I got to thinking. Considering the fact that these guys grew up on bands like Third Eye Blind and Counting Crows, I think I understand why frontman Brendon Urie (and several other mall emo singers) sing in this frequently off-key, nasal way.

I've never seen Counting Crows or Third Eye Blind live in concert. However, I did see plenty of performances of them on The Tonight Show and VH1's various concert specials back in the '90s. What was one of the most glaring aspects about these performances? The vocals were really bad. TEB's Stephen Jenkins looked like he was frequently struggling to hit most of the notes and he frequently sang off-key. As evidenced by their Across a Wire live recording, CC's Adam Duritz would often sing different melodies that were often off-key. So with a young band like Panic! At the Disco, I think I'm now understanding why they sound so nasally and off-pitch even after a lot of pitch correction.

I read in AP that either P!ATD guitarist Ryan Ross or Brendon Urie was a huge fan of Counting Crows' Across a Wire because Duritz sang all sorts of different melodies. As much I am a fan of putting on a show that delivers elements that you can't get on the record, one of these elements is not totally different vocal melodies. I don't care how cool it may be: off-key is off-key.

I know I'm one to talk as a fan of growling metal/hardcore, poppy post-hardcore and mathy post-hardcore, but I cannot tolerate the kind of singing I hear in bands like P!ATD and Fall Out Boy. It's as if I can see the vocals in a ProTools file and there are no peaks -- just a straight line. While that may look "perfect," the very human aspect of singing gets chucked out the window. It doesn't matter if it's Celine Dion, Frankie Stubbs or J. Robbins, I hear humans singing when I hear them on record. Yet with the way that modern technology can make humans sound "perfect" with no gaps or variations, this feels like I'm hearing a robot, not a human.

Music should sound good and I have no problem with pitch correcting tools. If they smooth out some rough spots, that's OK. Pitch correction has been frequently used for quite a while, but it's only been in the last seven or eight years that pitch corrected vocals have gone haywire. Most people first heard it in Cher's techno/disco anthem "Believe," but now you hear it modern rock singers, pop country singers, R&B and rap singers and so on.

I haven't heard the latest recordings by Third Eye Blind or Counting Crows, but I wouldn't be surprised that they also have plenty of robotic pitch correction going on too. With their debut (and wildly popular) albums coming out between 1993 and 1997, the now college-aged members of Panic! At the Disco were just hitting puberty when these recording came out. I can't fault them for being introduced to music like this, but I just wish they study more about to real singing rather than ape the sound of a whooping crane.


Rj said…
Let me just come and out and say that I think the Counting Crows album "Recovering the Sattelites" is one of the best "alternative" albums of the 90's. I could live without the rest of their albums though. There was something different about the album, that far surpassed the rest of their work.

I saw them on that tour, and I did actually enjoy the different vocal patterns. And I believe he was doing that because he wanted to change the songs a bit. To emphasize certain phrases and such.

I remember hearing stories of their first tour, for the album with Mr. Jones on it. There was a show where they opened with Mr. Jones, just so the people that only wanted to hear that song could go home.

And I think that he probably just got sick of singing the song, and wanted to change it up. Even if he was off key at times. Actually it was almost more like him reading poetry at times(I thought).

Even bands with cred like Radiohead often dump their popular songs (Creep) because they are sick of playing the same song over and over. Which is why i think you saw many bands playing unplugged in the 90's, because it was a chance to re-approach a song.

I do agree that the vocals of fallout boy and PATD are untolerable, though.

Oh, and Panic is doing a cover of "Tonight, Tonight" by the Smashing Pumpkins as well. Who I also like, but did have some severe nasaly vocals.
Eric Grubbs said…
I agree: Recovering the Satellites is amazing. "Colorblind" is also amazing.

Now with the Smashing Pumpkins, I can still tolerate Billy Corgan's whine, but at least I've never heard him all-computerized. Then again, I didn't hear his solo album last year . . .
Rj said…
The solo album is pretty bad. There are a couple almost tolerable songs, but the cover of the BeeGees with Robert Smith doing backup vocals was just fucking horrible. I sold the cd back the same day since I couldn't return it.

He's now returning next year with a new pumpkins line-up, that is rumored to have Eric Avery from Janes Addiction on bass.