For Fans Of
There is no doubt that Brendon Urie has one of the best ranges and greatest voices in alternative and pop music right now. In fact, I have absolutely no qualms with saying that the newest Panic! At The Disco record, June’s ‘Pray For The Wicked‘, is musically one of the most superior albums of 2018; showcasing production capability and orchestral arrangements that outrun contemporary releases by country miles. What downright ruins ‘Pray For The Wicked‘ despite this though is a huge lack of sincerity. All style, no substance. Imagining music being written with this level of skill but then being matched in authenticity brings tears to my eyes, people. As this album could have been so much better.
I mean, how many times can Urie possibly sing about pretty much the same thing and make a three minute song out of it? Take the song ‘Old Fashioned‘, for example. Brendon, mate, didn’t you just write a song about reflecting on your own youth like one album ago? Without harping too much on the past, I am quite frankly disappointed that Panic! At The Disco’s first album – the hooky, burlesque emo-rock of 2005’s ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out‘ – contained infinitely better lyrics than their sixth LP. Especially when the band has later said that they didn’t even exactly have the best handle on all of the experiences they were writing about at the time (including, um, marriage). Yet they were inspired, and they drew on that with real emotion, and sometimes they were just straight emotional; in the case of the domestic abuse portrait, ‘Camisado‘. On ‘Pray For The Wicked‘, Urie is ambitious, yes, but it’s like he’s lost his sense of the gritty real world themes that Panic! have detailed so damn well in the past.
Urie has been a flagship representative for the LGBTQ community, even starting a charity to support more inclusive environments (and more recently speaking about being pansexual: “If a person is great, then a person is great. I just like good people, if your heart’s in the right place“). And yet, on this album’s eighth song, ‘The Overpass‘, when he namedrops “sketchy girls and lipstick boys“, it could not sound more token. Painting a portrait of Chuck Palahniuk’s transgender thriller book Invisible Monsters on their first album’s track ,’It’s Time to Dance‘, sounded so much realer – and it wasn’t even Panic!’s story to tell! There is just no believable thematic conviction to any of this new album, and that’s sad given some of Panic!’s amazing previous work.
The entire narrative here, despite sounding theatrical, is actually a rather boring story that hinges on a hedonistic lifestyle of excess and partying (‘One of the Drunks‘, ‘Dancing’s Not A Crime‘) and on “making it” in life and in the biz (‘High Hopes‘). With the exception of the string and piano-driven ‘Dying in LA‘, which details the failure of the lost souls that move to LA with dreams of fame – a concept which Don Broco did so much better on ‘Come Out to LA‘ – it’s seemingly all up and no down. And it comes off as so artificial. I’m honestly disgruntled that this issue has not even been acknowledged by a wider community of fans and critics too.
In the non-LA and religion-focused lyrics, Urie deserves congratulations for abandoning his religious beliefs to pursue his own music. But addressing that in a completely impersonal way by merely broadly referencing “the wicked” on the album does not feel like a genuine representation of any personal inner-struggle. And didn’t we already get the sinners to stand up with ‘Hallelujah‘ from his last album, anyway? Apart from some broad references to being a member of a group of “borderline kids with a book of disorders“, Urie also does not fully acknowledge the past that got Panic! to where they are today, including the band’s original members, nor why he supposedly feels so wicked in general these days. There’s a communication gap between feeling like a sinner and just kind-of-drinking and kind-of-partying, without referencing any kind of personal growth or history.
Please don’t get me wrong, the actual music showcased here is fantastic. ‘King of the Clouds‘ is one of Panic! At The Disco’s best moments of recent memory; words falling fast off Urie’s tongue and some insanely high notes forming a stunning background to the chorus of a song written about being high. Catchy but uninteresting songs like ‘Dancing’s Not A Crime‘ and ‘The Overpass‘ excluded, Urie goes hard on trying to create special pockets in the songs that are unique and exciting (see the pick-up over on ‘Roaring 20’s‘. I dare you to tell me you didn’t at least enjoy that). But moments like that are overshadowed by unnecessary, cringeworthy seconds where he fills the time by name dropping Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade‘ and “MJ up in the clouds”. “I know it sounds awkward”, he later adds. And yes, it really, really does.
Panic! At The Disco are one of my favourite bands of all time – I cannot stress that enough to you. The first album that I ever bought was ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’, and I have a lot of love for his other records. But this particular incarnation of Urie’s talent is not my preference at all. In fact, it makes me want to scream. It’s like there’s a creative blocker to Urie’s ability to sing about something real nowadays, as he instead opts for generic words that total the quality of his songs too. You would think his experience in theatre, starring recently on Broadway in Kinky Boots, would encourage him to build more nuance into a narrative that’s apparently closer to his heart. Instead, we’re still singing about success and parties with Panic! At The Disco in 2018, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s all we’re doing. Count me out until Urie re-injects some actual sincerity back into this music.
1. (Fuck A) Silver Lining
2. Say Amen (Saturday Night)
3. Hey Look Ma, I Made It
4. High Hopes
5. Roaring 20’s
6. Dancing’s Not A Crime
7. One Of The Drunks
8. The Overpass
9. King Of The Clouds
10. Old Fashioned
11. Dying In LA
‘Pray For The Wicked’ is out now, for better and for worse.