Did you like Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die? Go listen to Death of a Bachelor – you’re going to love it.
Now, let’s begin.
Panic! At the Disco is an institution, similar to bands like Weezer. They immediately made a lasting impact on the scene that launched them to fame and has kept them there for a decade, giving the band the freedom to experiment with each album in a way that most bands would kill for. Because of this, their new releases can cause waves in the music scene and rifts among fans, arguing which era of their career was when the band hit their peak.
Regardless of the outcome, each album not only spawns a new wave of fans and an ever expanding discography, it also allows Panic! At the Disco to cover a larger swath of genres while maintaining the spirit of the band intact. The more I listen to Death of a Bachelor, the less and less I feel Panic! in the music, and the more I feel Brendon Urie running obnoxiously rampant. For the first time, he’s not leading the charge in pop music, he’s playing catch up.
Musically, and in terms of vocal ability, the album is fantastic. While Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! felt off kilter due to the overpowering influx of synth pop instrumentation, Death of a Bachelor brings back some of the vaudevillian instrumentation to the dance beats (“Crazy=Genius”). It makes for some great sounds, and feels like a genuine callback to, arguably Panic’s most famous album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. Depending on your taste, the album might feel overproduced. The guitars tend to take a back seat to percussion, intricately woven bass and flaring trumpets.
Urie’s vocal abilities are at full capacity and the album includes some of the best singing of his career. His high notes are higher, his ability to find a charming melody are at their zenith, and he’s added the gentle croons of the big band era (“Golden Days”). His vocal abilities are beyond amazing and officially put him par as dueling Patrick Stump as the best male vocalist in pop from our scene.
The comparison to Stump isn’t a coincidence. The only real detriment to the music itself is that it sounds like Urie is chasing the new version of Fall Out Boy. The pop has completely overpowered the pop rock. At times, it does tend to feel that Urie tried to re-imagine American Beauty/ American Psycho with trumpets. THIS ISN’T A BAD THING. It’s an incredible sound, and has some utterly hypnotic beats (“Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time”, “Crazy=Genius”).
The thing that ruins this album is the lyricism. Simply put, the lyrics are garbage. The entire album is a drunken nightmare, line by line. Nearly every song refers to alcohol multiple times or references a variety of drinks (champagne, wine, etc.) over and over and over. This isn’t Panic! At the Disco. It’s early Kesha. “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” features the line, “I told you time and time again / I’m not as think as you drunk I am / And we all fall down when the sun came up”. Ugh.
When the band first erupted in 2005, what drew people to them was the witty lyricism, dark humor, and the cocky swagger of Fueled by Ramen perfected to an art. Even after the departure of Ryan Ross, Brendon Urie proved himself just as capable, if not more so, as a lyricist. He was able to tell a story and pack his songs with passion and flare. This is not that Brendon Urie.
Each song has references to lavish Hollywood style gluttony “sycophants on velvet sofas / Lavish mansions, vintage wine / I’m so much more than royal” (“Emperor’s New Clothes”), or “Swimming pools under desert skies / Drinking white wine in the blushing light, just another LA devotee” (“LA Devotee”).
I don’t expect an artist to trace the same tropes album to album, or to forego exploration into new topics. I love pop songs. But this collection is overbearing and becomes a burdensome as the album progresses. It makes getting to some of the less booze-inspired songs like “Golden Days” and “House of Memories” near the end of the album a chore. It might feel like a different story if the album was inspired by blasting through a booze-fueled fury and coming to terms with the consequences, or just SOMETHING of slightly more substance. Unfortunately, the only song to deal with anything like this is the closing song, “Impossible Year”, which includes Sinatra-style crooning a bit flatter than that found in “Death of a Bachelor”, with yet another reference to gin.
Believe it or not, I like Death of a Bachelor. I believe that this will be an album that I will come back to in a year and fall in love with more than I do now, and the fact that Death of a Bachelor was just announced as the band’s first Number 1 on the Billboard 200 proves that I am most likely in the minority (Ed. Note: He’s not). I’ve truly loved each iteration of Panic! At the Disco for a decade, but Death of a Bachelor really stepped on my respect for Urie’s writing prowess.
If you’re able to overlook the lyricism and maddening amounts of alcohol references, Death of a Bachelor is a fun, highly energetic “near-concept” album about a partier who has gone too far, gotten too caught up, and ends trying to figure out how he got through it at the last second during a raging hangover. If not, although this album has some true highlights and true musicianship at the highest level, it can feel like wasted potential and just another pop record about nothing.
by Kyle Schultz