Today we’re taking it back all the way to 2008, to what once was a band called Panic At The Disco and their second studio album, Pretty. Odd. Now, back in the good old days when they were a full four piece group, they decided to completely change their sound for their second album, deviating from the very theatre inspired likings of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and transitioning to a folk rock sound, completely leaving behind their “emo” beginnings. Although you might not even be able to recognize the band when comparing their debut to their sophomore effort, one thing that hasn’t changed in the slightest is the quality of the music. Despite the change in sound, I find Pretty. Odd. to be lighter in instrumental and tone but much denser in terms of lyrics and themes all while keeping their standards incredibly high, and for a group this young (as they were all in their early twenties by this point), I find that to be an exceptional achievement. While there are many songs that stick out in my mind as being phenomenal and worth mentioning, or while I could literally just discuss the album itself for days on end, there is a single song from this project that has withstood the test of time like no other. That song is track #7, “Northern Downpour”.
For the longest time, I didn’t even know this song was released as a single. But it was indeed the fourth and final single released from the record. Judging from its Wikipedia page, I actually can’t even tell if this song charted at all or received any accolades besides a few good reviews from critics, who praised it and said that this might be the best thing the band will ever create. That’s a pretty bold statement for a four minute song on a sophomore record but I would say that’s a very accurate statement, especially after all this time has passed. “Northern Downpour” is a very special song and although it didn’t receive much, if any, attention from the charts or radio, it still has the attention of fans over a decade after its release. And there are actually some really simple reasons as to why that is.
One of the main reasons this song, and many others from this album, have survived is because of the songwriting. This is the bands most ambitious writing, where each song feels at times almost impossible to fully decipher. But the best part about that is that everyone gets to assign their own meaning to them. The band originally described the song’s lyrics as being made up of things that were most significant to them at the time, but even though the band had a clear vision for the meaning when they penned the track, I can find twenty other meanings easily between the lines. Little tidbits I’ve personally collected are themes of anti-materialism (“For diamonds do appear to be / Just like broken glass to me”), reassurance that everything is going to be fine (“I know the world’s a broken bone / But melt your headaches, call it home”) and just general relatability with the chorus, “Hey moon, please forget to fall down”. This chorus bit is especially significant because I find the meaning to lean towards the idea of never wanting the night to end because it’s simple and quiet, where nobody can disturb you and you can be left alone. And the best part about these lines is that there are various interpretations and that they can mean whatever the listener wants them to. Getting to analyze what a song means is almost as important as the emotions it makes you feel and while I have always associated this song with positive emotions, I’ve seen plenty of fans consider this a rather dismal song. That is another specific point on why this track is so important.
Not many songs out there have the ability to adapt to every emotion, every season or even every listener. But what I find especially interesting about this song is that I am able to listen to it at any time, any day, with any sort of feelings and it fits in perfectly with my mood every time. For me personally, this has always been a light and happy song, but for others, I can understand why some associate it with sadness and remorse. It’s dynamism in reliability is extremely rare, where it’s able to fit on any sort of playlist you can create. While most songs have their standard “happy” or “sad” label clearly presented to us, “Northern Downpour” lets US decide how we want it to make us feel. And I find that the production is so balanced, neither too folky nor too poppy or anything in between, that anybody can really enjoy this track, regardless of their listening preferences. Having a range this wide is nearly impossible for most full length albums let alone a single song.
Last but not least, one more very important detail that we cannot forget about is that this song is the final single to be released by Panic At The Disco, the full band, before guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the group. Besides it just being incredibly nostalgia inducing in some regards, it also serves as a final goodbye. I might also add that the song was entirely written by only Ryan and Jon. How much of a coincidence is that?
All the critics in 2008 who claimed this was Panic At The Disco’s best work and that nothing else they do can top this song basically predicted the future because I have to say that after over ten years, that statement still holds up. From becoming a two piece with just Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith, to the addition of Dallon Weekes, to Urie becoming the sole member, there is not a single track that sticks out as coming even remotely close to the charm “Northern Downpour” contains. Although they’ve released plenty of great songs throughout those years, the type of emotional depth and creative writing, along with the full band effort that we see on this song is not found on any others, at least not all three characteristics. And listen, “Northern Downpour” is by no means the most perfectly produced song of all time. But it’s meaningful and customizable, and makes people feel like they have something special that is purely their own, and that in itself is magical.