Track-By-Track Review: Panic! At The Disco – Death Of A Bachelor
Panic! At The Disco
Death Of A Bachelor
DCD2 / Fueled By Ramen / Warner
A decade of lineup changes, wardrobe changes, and that one album where four nympho circus emos suddenly turned into The Beatles Lite – all of it, for better or for worse, has led to this moment. Taking the reigns to deliver his most ambitious release to date, Panic! At The Disco is now the solo project of instrumental everyman Brendon Urie. Matured, in control, and with an experimental appetite that laughs in the face of genre, Death Of A Bachelor sees the frontman both expectedly cautious, and absolutely mad with power.
No bandmates to hold down his creativity, Urie throws anything and everything at the wall here, blending elements of pop, jazz, swing and stadium rock, tapping into every era of Panic!’s discography while still maintaining the traditional 180. It’s a relatively safe LP, though, relying on a polished, tried-and-tested formula to make sure everything comes together in a way that can still give Fueled By Ramen the chart-smashing radio record they’re looking for. The end result is an album that doesn’t hit as hard as it possibly could, but still brings to the palate more flavours than your local Ben & Jerry’s.
So with that said, we’re diving into the album track by track – with so much going on in just a short 35 minutes, it’s honestly the only way we could cover such a beast…
Much in the way that Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” did throughout 2015, “Victorious” is predestined to a year of airplay on Fox Sports as their designated advertising anthem. It’s too excessive and overstimulated to have been written for any other purpose, but with its power chords pulverising and high notes blazing fiercer than Snoop Dogg on a Friday, that isn’t much of an insult. Co-written with Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo, the track sizzles with a nonsensical extravagance, Urie powering through hooks left, right, and centre to kick Death Of A Bachelor off on an ambitiously excitable note.
If this were an alternate universe in which Panic! had only just released A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, there’s a good chance this right here would be its lead single. Piano, horns, clap tracks and a “Rock Lobster” sample lacquer this hearts-on-fire hangover anthem, a sleazy ode to all things fast, narcotic and alcoholic. Not only does it flawlessly modernise the spirit of Fever, “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” captures everything Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! tried (but ultimately failed) to portray, spins it through a kaleidoscope and serves it dry, on ice.
After putting out a song titled “This Is Gospel”, it seems the next step for Urie was to actually make a gospel song. Unlike most of what you’d probably hear from your Sunday sermons, however, “Hallelujah” is soul-infused banger that praises sin. Recounting his infidelities to an electronically-tinged RnB mix – flooded with horns and backed with a choir – Urie brings to the table one of his most impassioned vocal performances to date, swimming in falsettos and smashing high notes like skittles. “Hallelujah” was the song that birthed Urie’s initial concept for Death Of A Bachelor, and in a lot of ways, serves as its cornerstone.
Loosely sampling the cantina music from Star Wars (no, really), “Emperor’s New Clothes” is a rather interesting number. As a single, it borders on mediocre, a plain beat with bratty lyrics and a truly cringe-inducing bridge – with the overrated music video to match. But in the context of the album as a cohesive body of work, the track stands out as one of its most electric. It’s gloriously egotistic, sinister and bold; Urie declares himself a king, and Panic! his throne. It might take a few plays to get used to, but once “Emperor’s New Clothes” is stuck in your head, it’s there for good.
This is the first time a Panic! At The Disco album has ever had a title track. A tad sluggish, underwhelming and not in any way representative of the record as a whole, “Death Of A Bachelor” feels a bit like a wasted opportunity. The slow burning pop jam is Urie’s attempt at tapping into his inner Frank Sinatra, but while he has the vocal flourishes and sensuality down pat, he’s never able to encase the raw, intoxicating spirit of his stimulus. Still, it’s impossible to deny the shimmering vigour in Urie’s voice as he powers into that chorus.
One of the most memorable tracks from Fever was “There’s A Good Reason…” – pompous and proud with its jazz-laden punch, it’s pretty much the epitome of emo opulence. “Crazy = Genius” is the follow-up to that track which we never really asked for, but simply can’t get enough of. It’s beautifully grimy and slathered in sass, a stylistic orgy of horns and hollers from a particularly unforgiving troubadour. Setting aside its throwback vibes, the cut sits perfectly in the middle of the album, counteracting its predecessor’s croon with a red-hot bolt of sweaty spontaneity.
Scenario: it’s 2am, Sunday morning, and you’re kinda sorta wasted. You’re in the passenger’s seat of a vintage Mercedes, speeding down the highway with your hair blowing in the wind, the chlorine smell on your clothes breezing through from the pool you just broke into. “LA Devotee” is what’s playing on the radio, because in a situation like this, only the most perfect of pop songs can. Sticky sweet and unashamedly upbeat, this is Death Of A Bachelor‘s highlight moment; the token ‘fun song’ of the record, carefree and catchy with a chorus made to be screamed into a hairbrush.
Okay, so if “Victorious” is the song that gets played on every Fox Sports commercial advertising the next big footy game, “Golden Days” is the song reserved for highlights and replay moments. A grandiose stadium-rock anthem tinted with just the right amount of trumpet-y goodness, this is one of the few cuts from Death Of A Bachelor worthy enough to sit amongst the classics in Panic!’s discography. Taking the listener on a journey through the lavish life of a polaroid-pictureque couple, the track shows just how much Urie has progressed over the years – not just as a lyricist and musician, but also as a storyteller.
The first minute of “The Good, The Bad And The Dirty” is almost flawless; smoky and aphotic with a brassy edge, Urie’s vocals bleed affectivity until he roundhouse kicks that chorus with all of his might. It’s when the second verse begins that things start to unhinge. There’s no further progression to structure, no enticing twists or turns. A bridge at the end brightens potential once more, but nothing comes of it with another stagnating chorus. Even at a mere 2:51, the track manages to feel overlong. Amazing.
At first glance, “House Of Memories” sounds a lot like “The Good, The Bad And The Dirty”. There’s an unusual quasi-Western vibe to the beat and a glassiness to Urie’s chorale. But where its predecessor hung around and lost its groove after a minute, “House Of Memories” is a sonic rollercoaster, an inescapable joyride through a trifle of trumpet rolls and tip-toe piano notes. A tonal shift at the two-minute mark flips what begun upbeat on its head, Urie shifting from a silvery hum to an emotive force of treason. Hinting back to Vices & Virtues with its refrain, this is the LP’s last ‘big moment’; one which is utilised pretty damn well.
Remember when we said Urie couldn’t pull off a classic Sinatra croon? We take it back. Much the way Too Weird capped off, Death Of A Bachelor ends on a slow and sweet note. With no electronics to take away from his ethereality, Urie pours every drop of his heart into the confessional number. It’s entrancingly crushing; beautiful melancholy. Rob Mathes’ horn arrangements come to a fitting peak with one final blow-out, leading Urie to a bittersweet final passage. Rather than erupt into the epic closing ballad it could, “Impossible Year” fizzles out on a cliffhanger. If the tactic here was to have us itching for more, well, it certainly worked.
THE FINAL WORD
Compare it to any of Panic! At The Disco’s first three albums, and you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed by Death Of A Bachelor. In transitioning the project to a solo affair, Urie has lost a lot of the grand theatricality the Vegas big beaters were once notorious for. That doesn’t stop him attempting to emulate the essence of those albums, with “Crazy = Genius” tracking back to the Fever days and “House Of Memories” reminding us of Vices & Virtues (not to mention Rob Mathes’ horn arrangements tinting everything with a distinct Pretty. Odd. vibe) – but scaled down and washed over with the pop-driven impudence that Too Weird To Live introduced, and the record comes off as little more than a mixed bag of wasted opportunities and pseudo-sequels.
Take the record at face value, however, and Death Of A Bachelor becomes a phenomenal body of work. Infinitely more layered, brighter and more inspired than its predecessor, LP #5 is Urie letting his mind run wild, a Top 40 pop album tipped with 1940’s flourishes. He performs everything on the disc himself (right down to the taunts in “Victorious” and “Emperor’s New Clothes”) but Death Of A Bachelor is nowhere close to simple; the ending riffs on “Golden Days” are as memorable as the chorus itself, and the bass on “House Of Memories” gives the track an album’s worth of its own personality. Completely void of filler, Urie glides across the record with a decadent incandescence – whether he’s humming out a soulful falsetto or screaming about drugs at the top of his lungs, he never fails to have his listener enthralled.
Panic! At The Disco is dead. Long live… Panic! At The Disco!