Review Summary: Um, I better chime “out”, and close the god damn door.
2018 Reading and Leeds Performers Series: Episode I
Before I would like to begin this review, I would like point out one thing: there is nothing wrong for musicians to experiment their sounds per se, as they need to innovate and update their sound which keeps their music interesting and continue to attract fans alike. In fact, I actually favour bands such as Slowdive
for moving forward in terms of sounds with their new albums before. However, it is still important to maintain the quality of the music. That’s not much of a case when it comes to Panic! At The Disco
’s sixth effort, Pray For The Wicked
. After a ten-week stint in the Broadway show Kinky Boots, frontman/sole full-time member Brendon Urie seems got the idea to infuse the aesthetics of Broadway into their Emo-pop brand, resulting a grandly bombastic sound in this album. However, this kind of experimentations cost the substance of their material. As a result, the product they created may sound excitingly fun, but it lack the charm that keeps listeners engaged to repeat this album.
But before I begin hammer down the mistakes, I had to admit there are some great qualities to admire for this album. The first silver lining is that this album has a spectrum of brilliant genre detours that is flourished by grandiose production, courtesy of producer Jack Sinclair(who also produced Weezer
’s late-career highlight, their self-titled white album). From R&B-infused ballads (“Hey Look Ma, I Made It”), modern Rat Pack swagger (“Old Fashioned”) to gospel-tinged blockbusters (“Say Amen (Saturday Night)”, “The Overpass”), and Broadway grandeur (the Pretty. Odd.
-recalled “Dancing’s Not a Crime”, the orchestral “Dying In LA”), the band somehow execute these experimentations smoothly with very little effort. Furthermore, the album perhaps contains Urie’s best vocals in the band’s careers. Perhaps thanks to the fact that he performed in Broadway shows, he delivered his theatrical vocals that recalls 50s and 60s Hollywood stars such as Gene Kelly, and he stood in the songs like a star without overpowering the chemistry of the band, especially in “Roaring 20s”, where he showcased his impressive vocal range, creating an album that many pop music fans would find easy to dive in and dance to.
On the flip side, unfortunately, the wild genre-hopping also made the album unfocused, which boggles my mind about what kind of album the band was intended to make. Unlike the previously decent Frank Sinatra
-channeling album (Yes, you heard me, they said so) Death of A Bachelor
, in which the band maintain the consistently balanced formula of jazz, Broadway and emo-pop throughout the concept, this album sounds more like a sonic patchwork instead of a whole album, as it pieces various sound together without fitting each other. It’s nice to see a band is willing to make various types of music, but I believe that it’s important to remain the integrity of the album when doing such detours, and Panic! At The Disco seems to annihilate it instead of keeping it. In addition, the inclusion of hip-hop elements seems to be quite unfitting to the horns-laced grandiose rock sound, as well as the jarring composition of “The Overpass” and the vocal tweaking in “Dying In LA” are also cringe-worthy as well, resulting the album to be more of a music mishmash than an actual album.
Moreover, this album also filled with the poorest songwriting of the band in years. In fact, the album generally is plagued with disposable hooks. If I recall correctly, the band did have some highly remarkable hooks before, such as that of the band’s crowning jewel “The Ballad of Mona Lisa”(from Vices & Virtues
) and “Nine In the Afternoon”(from Pretty. Odd.
), but this album only stuffed with more forgettable ones. In fact, the songs in the album consists of chorus with repeating lines only, which reminds me of the typical pop song’s chorus, especially in songs such as “King of The Clouds”, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It”, “The Overpass”, “Silver Lining”, “Dancing’s Not a Crime” and “High Hopes”, resulting me to skip some songs midway through. Despite the fact that there are some great moments of career introspection (the line “'Cause I'm a hooker sellin' songs, And my pimp's a record label” in “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” shows how Urie faced his difficulties of bossy record labels, while “Dying In LA” laments about the dark side of pursuing dreams in Los Angeles), boasting their individualism(the weary line “And every mornin' when I wake up, I wanna be who I couldn't say I'd ever been” in “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” shows Urie’s desire to be himself) and beautiful reflection on the party lifestyle (“One of the Drunks”) and addiction (“Old Fashioned”) that recalls Death of A Bachelor
, those did not help much, as the album is heavily reliant on the annoying choruses. As a result, this album is perhaps the album with the blandest hooks in years, as it dragged down by the cringe-worthy songwriting.
In short, the Las Vegas band may deliver their most eclectic and pop-friendly album in years, but such eclecticism and accessibility unfortunately costs the overall brilliance and integrity of this album, and they seems to fill such quality gaps with generic songwriting, further degrading the charm of this album. Again, it’s nothing wrong to experiment with various influences for musicians per se, but they still need to remember that such experimentations should not trade the quality of the album, and Panic! seems to miss the point in this effort. It may be a good album for pop music fans to begin digging into Panic! At The Disco’s discography and another gift for hardcore fans, but it’s not the effort serious music geeks like me pray for.