Reignite your inner emo kid, because Panic! are back with a brand-spanking new album.
The album opens with a peaceful arrangement of strings, following on from their latest release ‘Death Of A Bachelor’; taking influence from big-bang swing, infused with Sinatra-like tunes. The song quickly disappates from that trend though, with lead man Brendon Urie declaring “fuck a silver lining” as the record’s opening line, while the production on the track retreats to a what abrasive, manic sound. That’s not to say it isn’t effective – it certainly opens the album up with a bang, and lets you know that Panic! aren’t here to play. They ain’t doing things by halves.
‘Pray For The Wicked’ is certainly a step away from their debut, ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’, an influencial record on the emo/pop/rock scene back in the day; and it’s an album that select fans cry out for the band to recreate. ‘Wicked’ lets us know that those initial days are firmly in the past. With each album since, they’ve been taking steps in bold, new directions, shedding off their emo-punk skin to make the change firmly into the pop genre. ‘Wicked’ is the album that’s taken the smallest leap from their previous sound, so much so that many of the tracks would’ve fit snugly on their prior release. Not that that’s an issue – it seems that the only remaining member of the once six-man-band has found his voice and direction, and he’s going for it headfirst.
Panic!’s sixth album is one that explores celebratory, roaring success, toasting to yourself and recognising how far you’ve come. It borders on being annoyingly sybaritic, though it seems that was the original intent. You journey with the narrator through the highs of achieving fame, to the lows of what that entails, all disguised through the means of catchy, witty showtunes.
Sonically, the album is abrasive and brash, the type that personified would be that drunk girl in a bar telling you to watch where you’re standing. It’s loud, a tad messy, and, well, entirely Panic!. Matched with Brendon Urie’s drawling vocals telling tales about how happy he is with his hedonistic pursuits, and, well, you have something that’s quite special.
‘Roaring 20s’ stands out at the clear highlight of the album; it blends together the vibe of every prior album and presents itself in a neat little package, complete with a bow. It has the stage presience of ‘Bachelor’, the self-destructive lyrics of ‘Fever’ and the vocals of ‘Vices’. Despite my issues with the lack of a lyrical genuis on the album, the lyrics “roll me like a blunt ’cause I wanna go home” is so bad it’s good, and it left me with a ridiculous grin when listening to Urie’s delivery. Other track highlights are ‘High Hopes’, ‘King of the Clouds’, ‘The Overpass’ and ‘Dying In LA’. The highlights are certainly high, but the album’s filler tracks are unremarkably forgettable.
Urie’s lyricism is always the focal point of any album he releases, but on ‘Wicked’ it’s slightly lacking. Not by a huge amount; they’re still good lyrics by any stretch of the imagination. But they’re just quite not as good as yesteryear, and it left me somewhat disappointed to not have those usual nuggets of lyrical genius on each and every track. On its own merit, though, and not being compared to the heights he’d previously achieved, the album is still a wonderful exposition to the indulgent musings of success.
Urie said that “‘Pray For The Wicked’ is my ‘thank you’ to our fans and the most fun I’ve ever had making album.” It shows. This album certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, with lyrics like “picture it / Beyonce / Lemonade” you can tell he’s thoroughly enjoying himself with each and every syllable.
The fact that the tracks are sung with his tongue firmly in his cheek is certainly for the best. If the record was focused on serious, deep cutting matter defused behind a mask of glamarous show-tunes, it would have fallen apart. Instead, we get Urie poking fun at pretty much everyone, including himself, while at the same time ironically acknowledging his successes: “I’m a hooker selling songs and my pimp’s a record label.”
‘Pray For The Wicked’ follows the latest trend of emo-rock bands taking the plunge into murky waters of pop music; with former teen-angst anthem-writers Fall Out Boy and Paramore both choosing to follow the more commerically viable option than sticking to the lane they built for themselves with their debut releases. And, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good that bands push their boundaries to create something that they actually want to create, rather than rehashing past genres to have the hopes of achieving the heights of past successes. The only catch is, the change has to come from a place of authenticity. In the case of Panic!, it certainly feels like a genuine shift, one Urie’s been building towards gradually with each release.
Overall, the album is a fun little burst of pop. It feels as though Urie threw everything he could at the record and hoped that it’d stick, which, in the end, worked in his favour. It feels as if Brendon’s playing a role (something he’s altogether familiar with, after his performance in ‘Kinky Boots’), the role of a stage-man who’s got everything he could ever want. ‘Pray For The Wicked’ takes you on a journey with a Broadway-singing, whiskey-slogging, smoke-inhaling hedonist, and it’s a ride you won’t want to leave.