Pray For Panic: The Review I Never Thought I’d Have to Write
“Out to the old, in to the new,” declares the first line of Panic at the Disco’s Pray for the Wicked. This motto is an elephantine juxtaposition to the snarky proclamation that opened their sophomore album, “you don’t have to worry, cause we’re the same band.” Embracing change and growth is a theme etched into each track of the band’s sixth album, released on June 22nd. Unfortunately, the delay in writing my Pray for the Wicked review was one of mourning rather than speechlessness.
Long-time fans know that the drastic change exhibited between early albums, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and Pretty Odd. far outweighs that of Pray for the Wicked in originality. It seems this album loses sight of the band’s history of storytelling and aesthetic experimentation, in favor of flashy samples and production value. Pray for the Wicked loses major points for poor lyrical content, tainted by an attitude of arrogance and greed, which makes the album very difficult to relate to for many. Although, it’s difficult to expect less of a frontman who’s outlived five generations of bandmates.
Singles, “Say Amen,” “King of the Clouds,” and “High Hopes” redeem the collection, although their early release implies that they were a pre-emptive source of absolution, and left little to be excited about upon the record’s release. The dreamy quality of Brendon Urie’s voice layered over itself induces euphoria as he recites the verses and croons out the choruses of “King of the Clouds.” The piece is a bold and poetic testament to cannabis culture.
“Say Amen” is an irresistible cacophony of fanfare, hip-swaying drums, and a poppy, muffled sample that compliments the song’s punchy sound, reminiscent of former hit single, “Miss Jackson”. The fanfare of “High Hopes,” is welcome; it celebrates Urie’s success, and highlights its causality: his perseverance and certainty. The foot-tapping, high-impact ballad works motivational wonders. The music video however, certainly could have done without the budget-busting, and exhaustive metaphor of skyscraper climbing.
What makes these songs successful, however, is the objective and unbiased sense of self projected through lyrics. You listen to a song that discusses trust issues, or regrettable weekend behavior, and think, “oh, there’s a person on the other end of this;” even “High Hopes” provides a glimmer of hope for those of us chasing dreams. Whereas, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” paints a portrait of a plastic celebrity– pretty to look at, but devoid of substance.
This heartlessness is disguised by the album’s titular motif: wickedness. Urie mentions his evil inclinations and specific vices on nearly every song–although there are never any clever allusions, no social commentary. He only wants to be bad for the shock value.
Perhaps this is the greatest disappointment of Pray for the Wicked, especially opposed to Death of a Bachelor, which discusses many of the same topics, in words that actually make listeners feel something. Also, the innumerable mentions of “momma,” or “Ma,” in the context of this record are a little too Oedipus. Furthermore, the emotion of the record pales in comparison to the band’s previous work akin to “Nearly Witches” and “Northern Downpour.”
Track By Track
Pray For the Wicked borrows sounds from many cultures and musical genres. Depending on your preferences, this variety pack of styles can be wonderful or convoluted. For example, “Roaring 20’s,” emulates a big band sound with Bollywood accents, which seems like a cheap attention grab to cover its lack of intricacy and generate mass-appeal.
“Dancing’s Not a Crime,” feels like 80’s pop and it is my journalistic duty to report that I could not resist grooving a little to the song. A barrage of filtered vocals introduce “One of the Drunks,” a hangover re-telling of “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” complete with regret and doubt. The track, although artificial, offers fresh perspective on the party-positive Death of a Bachelor. Brendon, are you ok?
“The Overpass” combines James Bond sex-appeal, with old-school hip-hop street drums. If any song has transported me to a covert underground nightclub, it’s this one. On account of the drumkits and wavering horns *cough Macklemore*, I wouldn’t classify “Old Fashioned” anywhere near classical. A song describing ‘the good ol times’ should sound much less typical for Panic at the Disco, a band with an outlandish and turbulent past. Releasing a stereotypical nostalgia song is either a mark of Urie’s age, or a blatant attempt to reach larger audiences.
“Dying in L.A.” seems to be a sincere and cautionary ballad, until the end of the chorus, where I make my first ever complaint about Urie’s vocal abilities. His breathy attack at the word “dying” harshly contrasts the velvety quality he maintains through the rest of the song. Perhaps if “L.A.” wasn’t repeated so frequently, it would be more accessible for those who reside elsewhere.
It’s #1 position on the U.S., Australian, and Canadian charts does not reflect the record’s rank amongst Panic at the Disco’s discography, although Pray for the Wicked is not entirely without merit. I recommend listening through the record once, but wouldn’t add it to my regular rotation.