For Fans Of
Serious questions were asked about the future of Panic! At The Disco following the departure of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. Being that Ross had been the vanguard of the band’s previous song writing efforts, it seemed that the remaining members Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith would need to ascend quite a summit to recover the loss. Nevertheless, they pressed on. Vices & Virtues is the third studio record from Panic! At The Disco, though it is the first from the modest duo that remains from the founding line-up.
Approaching Vices & Virtues expecting a carbon copy of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out would be a sad mistake to make. It’s a spirited, light-hearted record, and is unmistakably Panic! At The Disco – though it is hard to determine at times which version of the band they’re trying to be. There is evidence of both the frenzied Fever, and more baroque-pop inspired Pretty Odd days.
One must respect the herculean task it would have been to pull this record together as a twosome; the aptly-titled Pretty Odd is a hard act to follow given its maturity and individuality. Perhaps if Urie and Smith had have crafted a record that was as big a departure from Pretty Odd as it was to Fever, then it would have avoided the comparisons to the group’s back catalogue.
Front man Brendon Urie hides nothing as he goes down swinging trying to fill the void of Ross in his lyricism. Frankly, while his efforts have fleeting glimpses of ruthless absurdity and fantasy, on the whole his efforts come across as rather verbose and lack the charming simplicity that Ross brought to the band. Urie, though a generic, romanticized wordsmith, has one of the more recognizable voices in pop music. Hooks don’t come easy to many, but Urie consistently manages to be a powerful presence for Panic! At The Disco. The way he sweetly seals each melody with a kind resolve continues to stagger me.
Vices & Virtues has an underlying attitude to it that does call to mind the Fever days. Unlike Pretty Odd, you can almost visualize Urie fronting the band on tour; caked eyeliner and with a ringmaster coat draped over his shoulders, eccentrically carrying on as he does so well. The record attempts to follow the musical maturity on display in Pretty Odd, while the leftover pairing of Urie and Smith retrace their steps – re-establishing theatrics, a welcome return.
Emulating the mature styling of Pretty Odd was never going to come easily to the group sans Ryan Ross. That said Urie pulls out just about every skill in his repertoire. To put into perspective his workload on Vices & Virtues, let’s just put it this way: Spencer Smith mans the drums, marimba and xylophone while Urie handles everything else. Guitars, piano, synthesizer, organ, cello, violin among others; I will be the first to admit I underestimated Brendon Urie. The duo tackled the project Vices & Virtues headstrong and still managed to dream up a truly Panic-esque record – even if it does call upon both Fever and Pretty Odd for inspiration.
Of the ten tracks, there are tunes that are undoubtedly stronger than the others. “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” opens the record, and was always the logical choice for the first single – it’s menacing, cabaret verses will appeal to Panic! enthusiasts of old, while still maintaining the clarity the group found with Pretty Odd. The remainder of the record loosely follows suit – drifting incoherently between the signature sound of Fever and the baroque-pop rock, Beatles-esque stylings of Pretty Odd. This structure can be frustrating, though each track is drenched in a certain personality and charm.
There aren’t really instances of filler on Vices & Virtues, even the scaled-back tracks like “Always” and “Sarah Smiles” manage to have their merits. And the record certainly has ‘fan favourite’ potential – tracks like “Trade Mistakes” and “Nearly Witches (Since We Met…)” resonate with me, personally. While they’re musically sound like the rest of the record, they’re also rare examples of Urie penning some great, fantastical lyrics – the former plays home to my favourite lyric of the record: “If I ever leave I could learn to miss you. But sentimental boy is my non de plume.”
Vices & Virtues is a tough one to judge. It’s one of those records that failed to convince me first time around. A few more listens later, and I was hooked; Pretty Odd had a similar effect on me. Panic! At The Disco, or whatever is left of them, have written an honest record that doesn’t quite transcend their previous efforts A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and Pretty Odd – though, given the context of the record, it’s hard not to sit them all on mutual ground.
Urie soars vocally without a note of doubt, and the instrumentation of the record remains mature, and grounded. If you’re a Panic! At The Disco fan, regardless of your record preference, Vices & Virtues will surprise you. As a brazen Ryan Ross fan, I feared the void left by his departure would be too much – turns out, musically, it’s hard to tell he is even missing. Lyrically is another story.
- The Ballad of Mona Lisa
- Let’s Kill Tonight
- Trade Mistakes
- Ready To Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)
- The Calendar
- Sarah Smiles
- Nearly Witches (Since We Met…)