Panic! At The Disco have found themselves unfortunately stuck in a rough spot for a number of years now. It all started for them with their first record A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, which gave them a core following, established a budding rivalry with label mates Fall Out Boy, and brought them to the forefront of the then new and fast evolving pop-punk scene. This was not necessarily regarded as success however. Lots of us at the time (myself included), disregarded the record and its lethargic dramatic songs with their equally ridiculous titles. There was something about the band, maybe hidden in this less than great freshman release that implied prowess perhaps. Foreshadowing maybe? Not so much in the lead singer Brendon Urie's whiny 18 year old vocals and Ryan Ross’s often childish lyricism. Overshadowed by his undeniable charm and good looks, Urie was the one that got the magazine articles about the band and the hype, but it was the backing efforts by Ross and Jon Walker that would dictate their TRUE success and the brilliance of what would come next.
In what everyone from huge conglomerates like Rolling Stone and Spin and little indie blogs would be astounded by, Panic! At the Disco surprised everyone when they returned two years later with an incredulously great album, almost completely dropping their pop-punk emo sounds for something completely different. They added immense instrumentation to the record which, surprisingly enough was not too much of a stretch for Urie who himself can competent in playing close to 10 instruments. They recorded at Abbey Road Studios and unashamedly acknowledged the huge Beatles and Beach Boys influences on their massive record. This new record, Pretty Odd, was a huge gamble. Their fanbase was for the most part, not pleased. Expecting an over-dramatic 16-year old Hawthorne Heights fan wet dream record might leave you disappointed when presented instead with a tight and seriously focused 60s-inspired pop record shining with that quintessential positivity and uplifting melodic sensibility that makes those classic pop albums so catchy. Indeed- many of their previous fans left the band shaking their heads. They did gain lots of new fans, myself included however. The albums' simplicity and honesty was really endearing. Ryan Ross’s lyrics while still somewhat naïve in nature, came through as more natural and Urie’s voice had matured significantly in two years. The criticisms of the record were mostly accurate: It is simple and calculated, but endearing as hell!
Their sophomore record was a crowning achievement that indicated perhaps their third record would be the one to really show them as a really credible band and not just a write-off like many of their former contemporaries from Fueled by Ramen Records. Would they pull it off? Sadly they would not get the chance. Just after entering the studio to begin their third album recording, The band split. Primary songwriter and secret weapon to the bands’ genius Ross and bassist Walker quit and formed a surf-rock band The Young Veins who lasted one decent record and split themselves. Panic’s future seemed uncertain, they wouldn’t continue as a duo…would they? They would and they headed back into the studio with producer John Feldman from ska-punk band Goldfinger, who has become prolific at producing modestly unsuccessful pop-punk albums, which admittedly was not a great sign. And 2011’s Vices and Virtues was proof enough. It was an over-produced mess. It charted well and got decent FM radio play, but it just wasn’t a good record. Urie couldn’t please anyone. Those expecting another Pretty Odd record would turn it off after forty seconds sensing the dramatic reversion to the sounds, styles and song-writing more akin to Fever and the pop-punk scene. Those early fans, assuming they even still dabbled in pop-punk likely weren’t too impressed by the over-produced radio friendly album either. Indeed, Panic! At the Disco has never exactly been an *underground* band but even Fever had a sense of integrity to it.
And while Vices and Virtues may have a moment or two on it, it’s literally just that and the rest is absolute trash. So bringing us to present, the band has added a permanent third member in Dallon Weekes out of The Brobecks. Urie had filled Ross’ shoes as primary songwriter for the band and they moved forward for their fourth record: Too Young to Live, Too Rare to Die named after the Hunter S. Thompson quote about his lovably roguish and mad Attorney from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The record was described as more of a collection of singles than a concise concept record like Pretty Odd, comparable to say, Aldhils Arboretum or something of that sort.
The album takes them in somewhat of the direction Vices and Virtues left them heading in. Alongside their label mates Fun and the band they were often compared with in their early days, Fall Out Boy, they find themselves pioneering a vague post-pop punk rock that is radio friendly but not entirely pop. It’s not really sure WHAT it is, but it’s definitely not great. The first single from the record, “Miss Jackson” is a pretty good example of the kind of uncertainty that’s all over this album. Featuring a decent R&B singer and lyrics about Urie’s sexual awakening as a youth, and is a misguided attempt at paying homage to Janet Jackson as well as expanding Panic! At the Disco’s musical genres and it doesn’t work out. It charted okay, almost grasing top 10 singles but is pretty forgettable. It comes off as a bad B-side that a band like Gym Class Heroes might have decided to NOT put on a record, not a lead-off single.
The band seemed really unsure about their musical direction which is evidenced in how every song sounds so radically different and not in a good way. There’s evidence of synths and Pet Shop Boys styled dance beats just moments after a glimmer of their peak of Pretty Odd but it fades quickly in between pretty bland electronic pop tracks. Their new direction isn’t all losses and face palms though. Songs like “Girls/Girls/Boys” and “Collar Full” are pretty catchy in a catchy pop sense. But nothing spectacular and considering they’ve SHOWN their capabilities of putting out really great pop songs on their sophomore album, it’s not acceptable to half-ass most of the record here. The loss of Ross and Walker is really crystal at moments like this. While Panic! At the Disco is likely to find themselves a new fan-base in the newly arrived generation of 11-to-14 year olds, it’s a pretty bleak time to be putting out records like this. That said, I will say this: It IS better than Vices and Virtues at least from a purely lyrical standpoint. Urie seems to finally be getting somewhere and that’s a sign that maybe – maybe, one day, we will get that courageous gem of a Pretty Odd 2, but don’t hold your breath.