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.