Viva Las Vengeance is a shockingly brilliant album. Brendon Urie and Panic! At The Disco have conquered almost everything there is between the emo scene and the glitzing echelon of the pop world. Instead of trying to outdo quite possibly his best album, Pray For The Wicked, Urie swerved and presented us something far deeper, angrier, and more personal than anything he’s released thus far. Viva Las Vengeance is a Broadway fever dream that channels the sleepless nights when everyone who has done you wrong haunts your dreams with the whimsical beauty only Panic! could deliver.
Viva Las Vengeance is a low-key answer to the band’s divisive sophomore album, Pretty. Odd. This is what Panic!’s second album could have been if they had stylized themselves after classic glam rock instead of The Beatles.
Because of that, Viva Las Vengeance sounds like Hellogoodbye tried their hand at channeling Queen, adapted it into a Broadway show, and then let Brendon Urie run loose vocally. He shows off the extent of his vocal range while exorcizing demons he’s held since the age of 17 and writing a semi-concept album.
The record is stripped back in terms of what Panic! has written previously. Production lacks the over-the-top glamor and polish associated with a worldwide headliner, but it is astoundingly clean. Every instrument shines through with absurd perfection. Orchestral parts proliferate the album, from swirling violins and frantic trumpets (“Something About Maggie”) to the tambourine almost acting as the main instrument during the chorus (“Local God”). People talk in the background. The results are a lively album that breathes and swoons.
Urie also went off the deep end with time changes and thematic tonal diversions from song to song. After the second chorus in “Sad Clown”, for example, the music tempers itself while the violins and piano swell, almost as if it were the music played during a fight in Final Fantasy. Or in the case of “Something About Maggie”, the music is constantly interrupted by the deep voices of inner conflict before the heavily orchestral pop song sways to become the sound of madness for 15 seconds before resuming the cheery atmosphere it previously bore.
Viva Las Vengeance will be something that people either absolutely adore or hate, much like a stage show. Either way, it feels more personal than anything Urie has ever written. Sandwiched between the lyrics “‘Shut up and go to bed,’ she said,” Urie gets the grievances that have followed him for years off his chest during his rise to fame. Everything on the album is what keeps him up at night.
I saw Panic! perform as an opening act for Blink-182 just a couple of weeks after songwriter Ryan Ross’s departure. Urie stood still on stage in a suit, looking stunned and dejected, as if he were lost. Just a couple years later, he was one of the biggest names in the world, backflipping topless across the stage. At the pinnacle of his stardom, Urie finally seems to have let go of the anger he’d been holding back all along.
It’s in the appropriately named title track that Urie kicks off his ode to Pretty. Odd., Ross’s dream album. “Someone did me wrong, stole my favorite song / Yes, it really hurt”, he sings before chiming, “I don’t wanna be a diva, I just wanna be free / On a sofa with sativa, living the dream.”
“Local God” addresses Ross directly (“You had so many chances to become a star, but you never really cared about that”) as well as the hard early days of the band (“We signed a record deal at 17, hated by every local band”).
“Sad Clown” goes through the struggles of either Urie or possibly former drummer Spencer Smith with addiction and the need to break free (“I pop a pill to feel euphoria / Five minutes, 10 minutes to half an hour / But not the rest of my life / Leave me alone”).
Meanwhile, “Say It Louder”, a thunderous rock anthem, shows the stresses of having achieved the fame Urie always set out to gain as he sings, “Everybody hates you now, but don’t you let it break you down / Breakin’ out of your small town, show them what you’re all about”.
In the midst of everything, there’s also possibly a conceptual story involving a ‘God’ (“Local God”, “God Killed Rock and Roll”), a ‘King’ and playing music for the downcast (“Star Spangled Banger”), but looking too deep into it made my head hurt. All I know for sure is that “Star Spangled Banger” is the first song Panic! has ever released that I hope to never hear again.
Viva Las Vengeance is astounding in many ways. It attacks and overachieves at the idea of what Pretty. Odd. could have been. It’s angry and resentful. It’s elegant, beautiful and so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take seriously as anything other than absolute magic. Panic! At The Disco continue to experiment and remix themselves so deeply it’s hard not to be in absolute awe of the results.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is curious how early is too early to put up Halloween decorations in good taste.