Panic! at the Disco seem to have been all over the place musically over three albums and six years. Their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was danceable and likable- sweet and sugary with the pop sensibilities of the best “emo” acts in the scene. It was flamboyantly awkward lyrically, but had enough charm to appease the times. And just a few years later, their second record, Pretty.Odd came about, and they largely abandoned the fifth grade lyrics,electronic fragrances, and wrought out a more grandiose 60′s pop sound, with strings, layered instrumentation, and witty lyrics more whimsical than…well…awful.
Vices and Virtues is not a similar reinvention, though it should be. Having lost half the band, including Ryan Ross, who’s favoritism towards 60′s pop and the Beatles were well acknowledged, only Brendan Urie (multi-instrumentalist) and Spencer Smith (drums only please thank you) remain in the band. They also added the exclamation mark back in the band title, so new t-shirts and merch designs lie ahead.
And yet, Vices and Virtues is as straightforward an album as the band has released. They have obviously grown more mature in the years and throughout the drama that unfolded. Their hooks are as fresh as they come, signaling a buttery sort of rambunctiousness not seen since their first album. It’s less electronic than older material, and definitely trims a lot of those 60′s influences. Only Always and Sarah Smiles are notably more similar to those Pretty.Odd days.
But they absolutely focused their sound. Where their last album was 50 minutes, this one is barely 35. Where they pulled influences from 40 years earlier while just before being at the forefront of alternative rock and emo-pop, is a testament to their abilities as musicians. But Ross’ split from the band had it’s effects, making the two musicians (who formally make P!ATD a duo) release an infectious yet wholly unsatisfying release. But what exactly makes this album just “ok?”
Big wide chorus’? check. Silly lyrics about girls with a dash of story and wit? check. A cute yet disposable ballad? check.
Panic! at the Disco play it entirely to safe to justify praise like we have seen from previous records. Vices and Virtues is not a bad album. It’s surprisingly prototypical for the band, deciding that this safer root may bring back an audience that left them when Nine in the Afternoon became a hit and they preferred reminiscing in a lilly field over dancing MGMT- Kids style. Regardless, there are a lot of hooks in the record. Ready to Go warrants some jumping on the bed in your pajamas excited for the next day, and Let’s Kill Tonight is surprisingly aggressive for a band who sang about rabbits and tadpoles just a few years prior. We also have quite an array of musical instruments at hand here- xylophones, accordions, and to a lesser extent, the synthesizer adding that sparing electronic touch.
If you’re looking for a safer album, pulling a few key influences from their second album, and toning down the electronic charm of their OTHER album, than P!ATD has a success on their hands. But when and if they release another album, I hope that Vices and Virtues turns out to be the key stepping stone to really delving deeper into their talented breadth of musical capabilities.