Review: Panic! At the Disco – Pray For The Wicked

No one has had a career in show business quite like Panic! At the Disco. After being the biggest band in the country, they fell into near obscurity until Brendon Urie reforged the band’s direction to that of pop super stardom. Show business has always blossomed from P!AtD in extravagant measure. Pray For The Wicked is a loose concept album about the trials and tribulations of not only the music industry, but show business as a whole. In doing so, Brendon Urie has crafted the most thematic album of the band’s career and reinvigorated themselves amongst pop’s elite.

You can buy Pray for the Wicked on Apple Music.

Death of a Bachelor didn’t sit well with me. While the direction was enviable, there was something that didn’t feel genuine about it. However, Pray For The Wicked follows a similar sonic arc. Crisp percussion and powerful pop beats dominate the music. While the record is powered by synth, R&B elements, disco-style guitar and wicked bass lines, there is a shockingly adept orchestra that adds incredible life to the music. It’s a near perfect mixture that makes the music sound, in many ways, timeless across eras and genre.

Similarly, elements of almost every Panic! at the Disco album can be heard. Though it may not seem like as big of a leap stylistically as something like Pretty. Odd., Pray For The Wicked actually sounds like the culmination of everything the band has done up until this point. In many ways, the album reminded me of Taylor Swift’s 1989, when it finally dawns on you that not only did they make the full switch to pop superstar, but did it tremendously.

While the album is a massive pop banger, the musicianship is astonishingly good. No two songs sound alike, but each is ready to make you dance just as much with the beat as they are with the brass and string instruments soaring over the intense bass. But while these songs celebrate the glamour of modern music, they take an equally harsh dig at the industry as a whole. Themes of celebrating the party carry over from Death of a Bachelor, but they carry the weight of industry that sits just beneath the surface.

“(Fuck a) Silver Lining” starts by showing the frustration and obsession with writing a new hit, having an album go gold and settling for nothing less. Urie seems jubilant as he sings, “Fuck a silver lining / cause only gold is hot enough, hot enough / One more, one more”.

“Hey Look Ma, I Made It” is the most direct attack on the industry. Urie begins lamenting working for a label and the pressure of living up to fan expectation. “Cause I’m a hooker selling songs / And my pimp’s a record label…..Are you ready for the sequel? / Ain’t ready for the latest? / In the garden of evil / I’m gonna be the greatest”. Then, as soon as the severely upbeat chorus kicks in, Urie bellows, “Hey look ma, I made it / Everything’s coming up aces, aces / And if it’s a dream, don’t wake me”.

Tried and true staples still exist, such as second shots at ill-fated relationships (“The Overpass”), flamboyant parties reeking of youth and liquor (“Roaring 20’s”) and the longing for simpler times that comes with age (“Old Fashioned”).

However, every song ties back to the glamour and heartbreak of show business. Nothing shows it more, or ties it all together, quite like the closing ballad, “Dying in LA”. The song describes both the dreams of up-and-comers and the sacrifice of a normal life anyone hoping for success must endure. There is a heartbreak as Urie finds his inner Regina Spektor and croons, “Every face along the boulevard / Is a dreamer just like you / You looked at death in a tarot card / And you saw what you had to do”.

Pray For The Wicked is arguably the most cohesive album Panic! At The Disco have released. The “emo” angst has been replaced with the brutal truth of finding success. Where other bands would sing about following your dreams of punk rock, Urie chooses instead to forge a warning for the prices that have to be paid to be more than a one hit wonder. In the end, that could be the most panicky thing Panic! At the Disco has ever done.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 has spent over half of this writing session shoving the cat away from his glass of water. What a cretin.

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Panic! at the Disco Owns the Spotlight at Jingle Jam

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“Welcome to the end of eras / Ice has melted back to life / Done my time and served my sentence / Dress me up and watch me die”

As 2016 comes to a close, there’s a lot of validation to be felt if you’re Brendon Urie. Earlier this year, Death of a Bachelor became Panic! at the Disco’s first number one album on the Billboard 200, and the resulting success landed Urie his first Grammy nomination just a few weeks ago. As it turns out, taking full creative control of Panic has transformed the singer into a bonafide pop star and creative genius.

With snow and ice on the ground and a mighty chill in the air, Urie took the stage as the headliner for this year’s WZPL Jingle Jam, an annual holiday concert event in Indianapolis. While the previous night saw X Ambassadors take top billing, this evening’s event welcomed up and coming pop performer Daya and hip hop newcomer Jon Bellion in addition to Panic! at the Disco.

Panic! at the Disco

Panic! at the Disco

When I interviewed Urie in the spring of 2011, Panic had just released Vices and Virtues, the band’s first release featuring Brendon as primary songwriter and first without founding members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. Sensitive and thoughtful, Urie was quick to note his fears and hesitations during the writing process of that album and how he often felt overwhelmed with creative responsibility. It’s amazing to see the same man nearly six years later so full of confidence, belting out, “The crown, so close I can taste it / I see what’s mine and take it” while absolutely owning the spotlight.

In the decade since Panic! at the Disco’s theatrical emergence into the public eye, Brendon Urie has become far more than a pretty face with an even prettier voice. In front of a solid out crowd at the Pan Am Plaza in downtown Indianapolis, he is the main attraction and he knows it. Once a stoic vocalist standing civilly at the mic, Urie is now a full-fledged performer, bounding (and even back-flipping) about the stage with swagger. You don’t dare take your eyes off him.

Panic! at the Disco

Panic! at the Disco

Stabilizing moments come when Urie sings a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or when he sits behind the piano for a performance of “Nine in the Afternoon”, the sole song on the setlist from 2008’s Pretty. Odd., which now feels like it released a lifetime ago. Most of the night is spent splashing in the revelry of Death of a Bachelor and even the sensual gloom of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die. In an unexpected twist of fate, it is no longer the emo glamor of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” that the crowd clamors for. This new era of Panic is connecting with a whole new audience.

Earlier this year, I panned Death of a Bachelor as indulgence of the highest order. Lines like “I’m not as think as you drunk I am” still don’t excite me, but it’s impossible to not be impressed at how well Urie has played his cards. He has not only weathered the loss of multiple band members and creative contributors, he has taken the reins of a project that could have easily imploded and made it something his own, learning all of the necessary tools along the way to ensure it succeeds.

At times on stage, Urie takes on the character of drunken stupor and carousing that bleeds throughout Bachelor, perfectly executing to the crowd’s delight. He’s the life of the party with seeming ease and you can sense his confidence. There’s no need for makeup or costume – instead, Urie shines simply through self-assured performance, the new Sinatra for the Snapchat era. It’s certainly a bit brash and bright for some tastes, but it has the potential to make the success of 2016 something that repeats itself. Lord knows, he’s earned it.

By Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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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.

3/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 will eventually enjoy this album and feel like an ass. Yay!

Panic! At the Disco to Release “Death of a Bachelor” on January 15

panic-at-the-disco-2015

Panic! At the Disco have announced the upcoming release of their new album, Death of a Bachelor, slated to drop January 15. Along with the announcement, Panic! has also released a new music video for their single “Emperor’s New Clothes”, which can be viewed below:

If you like what you hear, you can preorder Death of a Bachelor on iTunes. Also, check out the track listing:

Track Listing
01. Victorious
02. Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time
03. Hallelujah
04. Emperor’s New Clothes
05. Death of a Bachelor
06. Crazy=Genius
07. LA Devotee
08. Golden Days
09. The Good, The Bad And The Dirty
10. House of Memories
11. Impossible Year

Posted by Kiel Hauck