I would like to preface this review by stating I am the person at Daily Arts least expected to write it. I am by no means a Panic! fan; it wasn’t until recently that I finally put together that the “closing the goddamn door” song was their “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” For the longest while, the band was nothing more than word association for me: If someone said “Panic! At The Disco,” I thought “Brendon Urie.” Besides his name and his Broadway stint performing in “Kinky Boots,” I knew nothing about the man. I always assumed there was at least two or three other bandmates to round out Panic, but it looks like now that’s not even true.
I would say I took on this review to write out of my musical comfort zone, write about something that doesn’t have its roots in hip hop or R&B, but I won’t beat around the bush with this review’s little secret: I decided to sign up for it because my wonderful girlfriend is a huge Panic! At The Disco fan. So, without further ado, I present the thoughts of a Panic! neophyte (happily blinded by love) on their latest release, Pray For The Wicked.
From an initial listen of the album, it’s clear Mr. Urie was inspired by his time under the spotlight and his love for musicals in general. The sound of Pray For The Wicked is grounded in peppy horns, backed by unobtrusive basslines and drum patterns, the sort of triumphant live instrumentation commonly heard in Broadway recordings. At times, it seems like the album could be easily adapted to a stage production. The question is, would the overarching story of that musical be any good?
It seems like the only thing Urie has to say on Pray For The Wicked is that he’s made it; he’s overcome adversity and avoided pitfalls that stop most starving artists dead in their tracks. While some tracks contain slight musings on his religious roots, past relationships and the wasteful nature of drugs and alcohol, most refer back to Urie’s rise to stardom.
Brendon Urie has basically become a one-man show, so it’s no denying that the lyrical content was written by him and was majorly influenced by his life up to this point. That’s not to say Urie comes off as self-centered with a Father John Misty-sized ego, though. Pray For The Wicked seeks to be inspirational, with most of the songs functioning as celebrations of following your dreams and finding success, and reminding the listener to never be complacent and always aim higher. This is immediately made clear, as Urie shouts “Fuck a silver lining / ‘cause only gold is hot enough” just 12 seconds into the opening track.
Urie incorporates his life story into this symphony of encouragement: He was “shooting for the stars when [he] couldn’t make a killing” on the chorus of the insanely upbeat “High Hopes,” the mania of his “Roaring 20s” eventually resulted in him finding an accepting new home on Broadway and he even named on one of the songs “Hey Look Ma, I Made It.” The one song not grounded in some form of positivity is album closer “Dying In LA,” which explores a different side of following your dreams, the one that only results in lost hope and breaking under pressure. In ending the album with this hackneyed maxim — fame is not all it’s cracked up to be — one realizes that Urie does not have much original to say throughout the whole of the album. It’s the same motivating shindig that’s been thrown thousands of times before.
Yet music doesn’t have to be complex and embellished with original meaning to be good. Pray For The Wicked lacks real cohesion and comes off as more a collection of songs than an album, but it isn’t supposed to be some profound narrative that lands it a top spot on multiple end-of-the-year lists. Panic’s music has always been designed to be sung along; individual verses are often whispery, slower and not terribly indicative of Urie’s incredible vocal talent, while the high notes and riffing are reserved for the choruses. It’s almost like Urie knows his fans are going to want to belt out the catchy chorus and match his cadence, so he rewards those who know all the words a chance to rest their voices with the intermediary verses.
While Pray For The Wicked doesn’t entice me to test my singing capabilities, that’s OK: I am not the target audience. The album sustains the same playful intensity most major musicals reserve for their vigorous bookending numbers, with the occasional sprinkle of an emotional ballad here and there. Brendon Urie knows his music doesn’t have to be nuanced high art, so instead with his latest effort as Panic! At The Disco, he focuses on refining his fun, catchy pop rock sound. Although it doesn’t particularly toot my horn, hearing it play in the car with my girlfriend singing along from the passenger seat certainly does bring a smile to my face.