Brendon Urie must be stopped.
Legendary pop punk band turned solo vanity project Panic! At the Disco released the seventh studio album under that name on August 19. It’s difficult to call it “Panic! At the Disco’s” seventh studio album considering how far the project has gone away from its roots.
When Panic! At the Disco debuted in 2006 with their incomparable A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, they immediately stood out as storytellers beyond their years. This was in major part due to lyricist Ryan Ross, whose metaphors and stories weren’t reflective of a teenager fresh out of high school, despite that being exactly what he was. This was supported by the wholly underrated 2009 follow-up Pretty Odd, which traded burlesque and bombast for something more folksy.
Even after Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the group to start their ill-fated band The Young Veins, the songwriting didn’t suffer on the 2011 album Vices and Virtues. While it was definitely simpler than Ross’s aside from “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met),” the last song he ever contributed to the band, it still had a charming knack for metaphor and story thanks to lyrical input from Fall Out Boy’s very own Pete Wentz. This trend continued in 2013 with the release of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die when Dallon Weekes was brought on as an official member and original drummer Spencer Smith left for personal reasons.
Really, it was Death of a Bachelor (2016) where the cracks began to show in the Panic! At the Disco branding. While the first seven tracks were passionate and lyrically strong, with highlights including “Victorious” and “LA Devote,” songs like “Golden Days” and “Impossible Year” were utterly skippable. Then Urie put out Pray for the Wicked in 2018 and Panic! officially felt like a less-mainstream Maroon 5. Much like “Moves Like Jagger,” “High Hopes” did well commercially but lacked the originality and theatricality the band was originally known for.
Why is any of this important? In short, Viva Las Vengeance is, by all meaningful metrics, the weakest effort put forth under the name Panic! At the Disco.
It’s baffling to consider how an album can be so over-thought and under-baked at the same time. The instrumentation and Urie’s vocals are technically well-crafted, but soulless. The lyrics are often nonsensical but not in a way that evokes some of the pop punk classics, but rather tells the listener that the songwriters know how Fall Out Boy lyrics work but not why. Bluntly, there is not much on the album to suggest any passion actually put into this project.
Without exception, the songs range from utterly forgettable to antagonisticly tedious. The title track “Viva Las Vengeance” is well-composed and performed, but definitely wants to be more bombastic than it is. It feels like a half-finished demo which goes in one ear and out the other. However, it’s not as baffling is “Say It Louder,” whose chorus consists of a Twitter meme from 2016 or “Local God,” which contains the lyric, “it’s 2021 and I’m almost famous” between verses about Ryan Ross and Panic’s early days. Lyrics like “We signed a record deal at seventeen/hated by every local band/they say we never paid our dues/But what does that mean when money never changes hands,” on paper, are lyrics are thought-provoking and well-written. It’s unfortunate the tone of the song is so muddled it’s difficult to know exactly how Urie feels about Ross these days…or whoever he’s singing about.
In “Star Spangled Banger,” one can only hope Urie is referring to the politicians when he sings “we are the new Dead Kennedys,” but one look at the Genius lyrics dispels that hope. As anthemic as the song is trying to sound, with its blatant aesthetic inspiration from “The Star Spangled Banner” and triumphant chant “land of the brave/home of the freaks,” the song lacks the kind of universal appeal required of anthems. An example is the first verse, with quite specific about who the song is about by name-dropping “Katie and Brittany” and giving specific personal details like having a “2-point-one GPA.” Overall, it’s just a confused song that is trying far too hard to be something it was never going to be.
There really aren’t too many notable moments on the album outside of these two tracks. “Middle of a Breakup” and “Do It to Death” are phoned in and repetitive. “Sugar Soaker” and “Something About Maggie” are meandering and meaningless. No, recording the entire album live on an eight-track does not make it more artsy or impressive. In fact, it just makes the album feel flat and dull like no effort was put into the recording beyond that. A fine line that sits between a good song and a great one is in the mixing, but if there was any further mixing on this album it doesn’t show.
By the end of the record, which Urie closes by repeating the “shut up and go to bed” line from the title track, we would only be so lucky if Urie would do just that.