Given the radical changes that Panic at the Disco has made to its image during the course of the last year, it's hard not to read the lyrics to its new album's opening song as a pre-emptive strike aga

Given the radical changes that Panic at the Disco has made to its image during the course of the last year, it's hard not to read the lyrics to its new album's opening song as a pre-emptive strike against critics. "Oh, how it's been so long/we're so sorry we've been gone/we were busy writing songs/for you," bassist Jon Walker sings, by way of apology for the two-and-a-half-year lag between 2005's "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" and the new "Pretty. Odd.," due this week via Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic.

Then, he launches into lines meant to comfort fans who have no doubt noticed their favorite band now looks less like Queen and more like the Kinks: "You don't have to worry cause we're still the same band." Lyricist/guitarist Ryan Ross describes the song as "a lighthearted way to make an important statement."

But despite Ross' insistence that things in Panic-land are business as usual, the fact is, a number of things have changed since the band burst on the scene in 2005, resplendent in layers of makeup and surrounded by circus performers. The band shed one member (bassist Brent Wilson) and replaced him with Walker. The members traded their Hedi Slimane-style black suits for vests, cravats and floral patterns.

And perhaps most crucially, they toned down the bombastic, glammy sound of their first record, replacing it with a stripped-down approach that, at times, recalls the Beatles and Bright Eyes. Also gone: the exclamation point from its name. "Dropping the exclamation point was our way of drawing a line in the sand," Ross says. "We have a new record and we feel like a new band. We were all tired of it, and we went ahead and got rid of it."