Since exploding into the public’s consciousness in a blaze of glitz and guyliner over a decade ago, Panic! At the Disco have been a band in a state of constant mutation. Teenage pinups, psychedelic pop revivalists, electro rockers – the band have donned many hats over the years and it is perhaps this desire to experiment and refusal to stagnate that has seen them survive while so many of their contemporaries were confined to the emo-pop scrap heap.
That’s not to say there haven’t been casualties along the way – band members have been dropping like flies with each subsequent album release and the group’s once fervent fan base has also been dwindling with every testing left turn. So, here on their fifth LP, Panic! have reached something resembling a crossroads: do they continue to plough their own furrow and gamble with further alienation of their supporters or return to past glories at the risk of repeating themselves. The answer, it turns out, is a bit of both. Following the departure of drummer Spencer Smith earlier this year, frontman Brendan Urie has finally assumed full control of the band and is now free to get as weird as he wants. While the establishment of Urie’s dictatorship might sound like the perfect background for an over-indulgent mess, thankfully he’s come up with the tunes this time round. Death of a Bachelor is a record that trades on the strength of its choruses and the songs present here are stuffed with hooks to a sometimes suffocating degree.
Things get off to a rocky start, however, with ‘Victorious’, an electronic stomper by numbers with a cloying playground chant of a refrain that comes off as a little simplistic compared to what follows. Much better is ‘Hallelujah’, a celebratory gospel pop song that takes inspiration from Urie’s religious upbringing while simultaneously eviscerating his past infidelities. It was this combination of tuneful songwriting and scathing lyrics that made them stars on their debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and ‘LA Devotee’ repeats the trick meshing a caustic dissection of the vapid excesses of a Los Angeles debutante with a chorus fellow Vegas natives the Killers would be proud of.
While the band might have rediscovered their knack for a punchy pop song, there is still room for experimentation. The title track – released on Frank Sinatra’s hundredth birthday – sees Urie indulging his lounge singer fantasies as he ruminates on the implications of his upcoming nuptials. Meanwhile, recent single ‘Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time’ is the sound of three separate songs colliding at the same time, jarring at first but becomes increasingly cohesive on repeated listens.
Lyrically, Urie’s words still read as though they have been freshly ripped from his teenage diary. The band’s last album Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die - an auto-tune drenched tribute to Las Vegas viewed through Hunter S Thompson specs – seems to have to have left an indelible mark on his writing. But while Urie attempts to conjure images of depravity (“Cocaine, champagne, gasoline, and everything in between”), he sometimes winds up sounding like a minor who has been caught with alcohol (“I’m not as think as you drunk I am”). The production is predictably polished but takes a step back from the occasionally overwhelming gloss of their previous record with the band seeming to have reigned in some of the electronic flourishes they have been preoccupied in recent times. Sometimes the band make their stadium filling influences a little too obvious with ‘Golden Days’ in particular coming off as a ringer for U2’s ‘With or Without You’.
‘This Impossible Year’ ends the record in Billy Joel territory and while pleasant enough, it feels a little underwhelming – bringing the record to a close with a whimper rather than the show stopping finale it might have been. The album proves itself to be as an unusual cocktail of all of the band’s previous guises - Urie might have gone mad with power, his band purged to its brittle skeleton, but when it comes together, it can still occasionally be thrilling. After years of wandering in the Nevada desert looking for their sound, it seems as though Panic! at the Disco have finally found themselves.
6Robert Higgins's Score