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Music Review: Panic! At The Disco – Vices & Virtues

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Panic! At The Disco find themselves at an interesting point in their career. For one, yes, the exclamation point is back. More importantly, the band — now officially down to a duo in Brendon Urie (lead vocals, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, piano) and Spencer Smith (drums, percussion) — is fighting an uphill battle. Its first record, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was a snapshot-of-the-scene hit that had the band colored as the next darlings of “emo-pop.” However, Pretty. Odd. veered entirely too far into Beatles-esque territory that turned quite a few of those early fans off; a textbook example of the “sophomore slump” if there ever was one.

Logically, the idea of combining the two — a radio-friendly sound mixed with a desire to expand songwriting horizons — seems to be at the heart of Vices & Virtues. However, writing it off as a hybrid to save commercial face while still saving some credibility would be too simplistic of a description. There’s quite a bit more going on regarding both fronts.

The first two tracks reveal a slicker sound, to be sure. “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” and “Let’s Kill Tonight” go from wistful to nihilistic in the first almost-eight minutes of the record. The theatrics the band is known for are still there, but definitely a little subdued in favor of craft. At the core is a more-produced sound — not so much like the vapid pop that dominates radio, but more like Nine Inch Nails.

Vices & Virtues doesn’t even sound like what would be considered a typical Panic! At The Disco album until the third track, “Hurricane.” At that point, a lot of the melody and song structure associated with “emo-pop” finally rears its head — and even then it’s twinged with the faux-industrial sound. The sharply ironic refrain, “You’ll dance to anything,” drives home that getting the teen agenda across isn’t so much a priority anymore — or so it may seem.

If the record were that strong all the way through, Panic! At The Disco would have a great shot at being taken a lot more seriously. However, the choruses of songs such as “Memories” read like the same maudlin, angsty fare that got them written off as an emo band in the first place. Musically, the “paint-by-numbers” emotion is still there as well; “Trade Mistakes” could have just as easily been a b-side from A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out as a track from this album. Just as the record is ready to be written off as derivative, though, tracks like “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met…)” sneak up from behind and knock home a grand chorus, begging for a second chance.

There are some definite chances taken here, such as “Sarah Smiles,” a song that Queen’s Brian May can play after “Good Company” and smile warmly, knowing that his near-Vaudevillian escapades from back when have influenced another generation of acts. That sound — playful horns and toe-tapping — is not the kind a band looking to court the typical teen audience would so readily break out.

Panic! At The Disco, for their tendencies to go back to the well that made them both famous and hated, are definitely making an effort to grow. The melodies are more polished here and not so much vying for space in a crowded record like they were on their debut. Nor are they so entrenched in a rich, psychedelic wall of sound like they were on the last album that they go unnoticed. Vices & Virtues is a document of a band still looking to carve out their own identity. A few tweaks in sound — and definitely lyrical content — could see Panic! At The Disco finally become serious players.

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About Michael Melchor

  • http://emm-media.blogspot.com/ Emm

    I was one of those fans of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out that was so turned off by Pretty. Odd. that I didn’t even know there was a third album!!

    After reading your well-written but lukewarm review, I am debating whether to just go back and listen to A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out or get up and actually go out this weekend and listen to the new album. Decisions…

  • JS

    Emm I felt the same way you did, but I went ahead and bought the album. You will not be disappointed. This album puts the band back on track, and truly shows that they have found their way.

  • Christine

    I don’t have a problem with the lyrics myself, and I rather like the track Memories in particular. I don’t necessarily read angst every time I hear some sentimentality, though. I think it’s too easy to label such snippets and lines as angsty when we picture the artists in skinny jeans as opposed to more butch attire.

    I think this album is a solid, logical progression from the first album, with more of the musicianship and maturity of the second. I think it’s just plain fun, too. After hearing the stream from facebook, I bought the deluxe iTunes version, and have also LOVED the bonus tracks there. I think fans of the first album will enjoy those tracks quite a bit. “Bittersweet” is getting some well-deserved buzz in fan communities.

  • grimmless

    Nailed it.

  • Ryan J

    I personally welcome the new album. Of course their first is still their best, but this CD is pretty well done. Lyrically I think Brendon did a good job. His words may be more simple than Ryan’s, but they still hold strong meaning. And the sound is quite fantastic.

    As a duo I think Panic! has proven they can still create great music. They’re regressing back to their roots while maintaining the maturity they had when creating their second album. All in all, a great listen.

  • Dodo

    Pretty odd is the best freakin album ever :)

  • Monday Jones

    I liked all three albums, but Pretty Odd is actually my favourite:)

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