PANIC! AT THE DISCO
PRAY FOR THE WICKED: THE FULL VERDICT
At some point, Panic! At The Disco mainstay Brendon Urie settled into his skin and stopped caring what anyone thought about him, his art, his image or his reputation, and started unashamedly embracing his inner diva. Ultimately, it saw the former emo-kid-who-could blossom into a fully-fledged Broadway star, thanks to a stint in Kinky Boots last year, and rewarded him with more musical popularity and success than he might have ever dreamed imaginable if he’d stayed in the same spot he started out on. To his credit, this evolution has been gradual, rather than forced, and the sonic seeds of this theatrical side were sown as far back as 2005 debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. And yet, and still, Pray For The Wicked feels so jarringly outré, certainly compared with most of his one-time contemporaries and the bands he’s inspired.
The former teen pin-up from Vegas with a flair for the dramatic has now grown into a suave, sophisticated renaissance man, and he wears it well. Musically, what he’s produced here is objectively unfuckwithable – there’s a lot of estimable craft, creativity, freedom and wildfire ideas on this record. That’s not to say that listening to it is always an enjoyable experience, however.
There’s a flamboyant swivel and spin towards the dancefloor from the off, developing on the super-sized show tunes that gave 2016’s Death Of A Bachelor its life, character and colour. This time, that’s been turned all the way up to infinity – there’s even a song called Dancing’s Not A Crime that references Michael Jackson and moonwalking. On opener and recent single (Fuck A) Silver Lining, Brendon’s namechecking Beyoncé and her last album, Lemonade. He does the gospel-gone-bond-theme thing on the samples, strings and falsetto savagery of Say Amen (Saturday Night), while on most recent single High Hopes, he lets it all hang loose with a chorus that sets in like quick-drying cement. You just can’t deny the catchiness, the talent or the widescreen scope and ambition of it all.
Problems start around halfway through, once the strongest and most instant songs are out of the way. There’s simply nothing on the home stretch that stands toeto-toe with the flurry of invention and heady highs that first blow the doors down. And once the richness of the flavours and diversity of sounds start to pile up, it all becomes a little much for the palate. There’s only so many bursts of brass, electronic strings, quirky effects and a voice stretching to registers in the outer reaches one can hear before it all becomes a little testing.
It feels harsh to criticise a Panic! At The Disco record for being bold and exploring its brash nature to the fullest, especially in an era where it’s far easier to play things safe. But there’s no getting around the fact this one feels like it could have done with a defter touch and some sonic restraint. As such, it feels like Death Of A Bachelor part two, but with (even more) bells and whistles on – a classic case of, ‘Just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.’ And yet, what Brendon Urie can do is still so often far and above what his competition manage that even when he gets it less-than-perfect, it’s hard to fault too strongly. DAVID MCLAUGHLIN