Nothing to Panic about

28 Oct

*This is an album review I wrote for one of my Journalism assignments! The platform we had to post it on is really poorly designed in terms of submission, though, so I decided to do it justice on MY music blog. Hurumph. 

~

Vices and Virtues, the third album of American Rock band, Panic! at the Disco, sounds unexpectedly amateur in comparison with the band’s earlier work.

Panic! at the Disco began in 2004 as a four-person band comprising of Brendon Urie on lead vocals and guitar, Ryan Ross on guitar, Jon Walker on bass and Spencer Smith on drums.

Similar to, yet more instrumentally diverse and physically attractive than Fall Out Boy, the band, in 2005,  released their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out: a then-fresh combination of witty, bitter,  vaudeville-burlesque-themed lyrics, retro-disco synth-work, Spanish-inspired guitar and trumpet riffs, tight and dextrous drum-beats and vibrant acoustic piano additions, all overlayed with the not-entirely-unique yet far-more-velvety-than-Patrick-Stump vocals of 20-year-old Brendon Urie. The album was met with a roaring success and passionate support from a predominantly “emo” teen audience.

In 2008, the release of Panic! at the Disco’s second album, Pretty. Odd., sparked much controversy amongst Panic! fans. This second album differed wildly from the first: the band had made an abrupt transition from imitating Fall Out Boy to emanating the less electronic and more instrumentally-loaded sound of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album.

Pretty. Odd. featured brass and string orchestral music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, and tended towards a far more slowed-down, psychedelic and instrumentally-layered sound than that of their first album. Ross’ lyrics were decidedly more bizarre and less vitriolic than those of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.

Many Panic! at the Disco fans felt the band had “sold out” with this new addition, however many others, fans of Panic!’s obvious “old-school” musical role-models, adored both this new addition to the band’s discography and the classic that had become A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.

In July 2009, to much trepidation, devastation and tentative excitement from its fans, Panic! at the Disco, after alluding for over a year to an imminent album following Pretty. Odd., announced a musical breakup. Lead vocalist Urie and drummer Smith were to continue as Panic! at the Disco, and guitarist and lyricist Ross, along with bassist Walker, embarked upon a “musical excursion of their own”. The band stated that the breakup was merely due to an impending polarity of desired musical direction: Urie and Smith wanted to pursue “polished pop”, whereas Ross and Walker dreamed of retro rock.

Ross and Walker went on to form a new band, The Young Veins, who promptly released Take A Vacation! in June 2010. The album is a winding excursion into the nostalgic musical alleyways of 60s/70s beach-rock, yet Ross’ unique conceptual and lyrical style are strongly present, along with his flair for unpredictable yet catchy melodies.

The newly-Rossless Panic! at the Disco, after a long waiting period for its fans, finally released Vices and Virtues in March 2011, only to reveal exactly how much Urie’s compositional contributions had ridden on Ross.

Within the first few seconds of the album’s first track, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa“, Smith’s tight drumming and penchant for tasteful off-beats backed with a solid bass-lines can be discerned. However, within another few seconds it becomes apparent that Urie and Smith have abandoned all but traces of the once-full-bodied, authentic instrumental sound of Panic! at the Disco for amateur and unoriginal electronica – in later tracks, even Urie’s distinctive velvet voice is made to sound as though he is singing through a funnel constructed from bathroom tiles.

In addition, the album, like a down-and-out magician’s seen-before string of  shabby silk scarves, presents a poorly-patched-together montage of borrowed and predictable melody lines. The chorus of “Memories” shockingly (and horrifyingly) assimilates that of Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind these Hazel Eyes”, and nobody quite knows where they’ve heard the leading melody to “Ready to Go” before, but certainly wasn’t in this song.

Furthermore, where once resided the imaginative imagery and depth-by-epigram brought to the table by Ross, Urie and Smith’s new songs contain gaping lyrical holes – both literally and in terms of conceptual originality. For example, the chorus of “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” – I kid you not – contains the line “…let the sun rain down on me” -which I would accept as an ironic rip-off of amateur poetry’s senseless, melodramatic oxymorons, were the rest of the album not punctuated with “whoa-oh uh-oh ohs”.

In terms of musical production, the album sounds as though it has been both over-rehearsed and under-finished.  The crispness of the recordings have been cut and polished to the point of sounding robotic, as well as subtracting from any depth of instrumental pitch, hampering what could have been good instrumental layering. Panic! at the Disco’s once-excellent dynamics have also been over-contrasted, making loud and quiet segments of songs sound very clumsily-thrown together.

Despite these many failures, however, the album contains one or two glorious musical moments. “Always” is a sudden and refreshing break into a poignant acoustic guitar melody with a subtle bass-drum-led percussive and electronic build-up; Urie’s vocals are kept raw in this track, and even the lyrics are conceptually unique.

Sarah Smiles”, although the chorus is disappointing, begins with a delicious French-inspired romp led with piano accordion and accentuated by acoustic guitar and glockenspiel.

Although Vices and Virtues, in my eyes, is an utter failure, the Urie-Smith combination is potentially a diamond in the rough. Perhaps the two simply need to turn off MTV for a while and find themselves a balkanology party or two.

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2 Responses to “Nothing to Panic about”

  1. Thomas James Mathew (@thomasjmathew) 28 October 2011 at 11:34 AM #

    Ah, brilliant. +10

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Panic! at the Disco: Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! | As of yet Untitled - 25 December 2013

    […] Brendon Urie’s songwriting has (very arguably) improved since Vices & Virtues, I would still choose A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out over Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! […]

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