Review Summary: Vincero
The journey of the pop artist is often a tragic one. This tragic journey is why very few stay in the public eye for more than a seemingly fleeting moment. And the rise and fall of these artists is a tale as old as time at this point. To quote a favorite cape flick of mine “In spite of everything you have done for them, eventually they will hate you.”
Enter Brendon Urie. A name at this point that causes derision in any room that is willing to discuss the topic. I wrote about prior effort Pray for the Wicked
back in 2018. And at that time, I mentioned that the entire album was a swing for the fences for that illustrious top 40 hit. Unbelievably he obtained not only one, but two of the suckers. He did it, he successfully revived the entire project for the mainstream audience and Panic! was back on top. However, it came at a cost. Saving the stories and debates about alleged activities he may or not have committed, the Panic! empire crashed down.
Rock bottom, what do you do?
Viva Las Vengeance
is a clear passion project for the front man. Described as "a look back at who I was 17 years ago and who I am now with the fondness I didn't have before.” and a "cinematic musical journey about the fine line between taking advantage of your youth, seizing the day, and burning out".
So how did that go?
In my opinion Viva Las Vengeance
is the most energetic, focused and interesting project the outfit has released since their inception. VLV wastes no time bringing the energy. Title track and opener “Viva Las Vengeance” is a true smash pop rock tune. The song sets the stage for the dynamic textures found on the project due to the tape machine recording, and the live style vocals that are present as a result. Urie brings the heat to this track as well providing his warmest vocals in 10+ years. This energy floods several other cuts on the record such as the raucous honky-tonk stylings of “Sugar Soaker” and fandom anthem “Say It Louder” to bring forth several of the outfit's most exciting cuts.
A common complaint I have seen levied toward this record since its release is that the voice of Urie sounds “strained”. I have to be honest when I say I do not hear any straining, in fact this may be the most elusive the front man has ever sounded. One particular instance is on standout track “Sad Clown”. On this theatrical bop, Urie really brings the energy and travels all throughout the vocal scale to deliver one of the most exhilarating performances in his career. Similarly on “Don’t Let the Light Go Out”, the vocals elevate a rather basic sounding pop rock track to an emotional triumph about love and loss similar to some of the best the pop genre has to offer.
The album is very much a pastiche of some of Urie’s biggest influences, which are retro stylings from mostly the 1970’s. This combined with the tape-recorded nature of the project, results in a particular warmth of the textures found to the backing music. My favorite example of this is the second track “Middle of a Breakup” which sounds like a very pleasant piece of bubblegum pop circa the early 1970’s. While the lyrics tell a not very relatable story for all, I admire the craftsmanship of the sound here to create one of the biggest earworms on the project. Other tracks in this vein such as “Local God” and “God Killed Rock and Roll” are a homage in their sound to Springsteen, and Queen in the best ways.
While those influences make up the backbone and most of the biggest strengths of the project, it also results in a few misses. “Star Spangled Banger” sounds like if Thin Lizzy met Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the combo does not work so well. Even bigger miss “All By Yourself” uses an interpolation of Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” to little impact or noteworthiness.
However much like how the album starts with a bang, it closes with a fissure. “Do It To Death” is Panic! At the Disco’s defining and (as of today 1/24/2023) penultimate moment. The album perfectly encapsulates the effect that total burnout can have on a person. Through an exhilarating backing track the song climbs and climbs to an earned key change that brings about this panicked, depressive mania . With a reintroduction of the title track’s chorus at the end for good measure, the project successfully captures the essence of the story it strives to tell. This track in particular has been a godsend for this writer, as I navigate the feeling of growing older and exiting my 20’s and feeling increasingly irrelevant in life and in the world we live in. The track gives me the “f*** it, do it because you don’t have a choice” kick in the ass that we all need sometimes.
I have followed this project extensively for 14 years, since my early high school days. Because of this I can confidently say that Urie set out exactly what he wanted to do on this album to fantastic effect. A culmination of his influences, while navigating his uncertain world and status makes this clear step up from the last project, and a career highlight for the outfit known for constant change and uncertainty. With even more uncertainty coming in his own life and even this writer, we just need to remember no matter what..
“I SHALL WIN!”