Panic! at the Disco – ‘Pray For the Wicked’

By Yasmin Brown

It can’t have been easy to write a follow up to the Grammy nominated Death of a Bachelor, but Brendon Urie – now known for his determination to keep Panic! at the Disco alive – has persevered. While ‘Pray For the Wicked’ might not have the same pizzazz of its predecessor, it’s an admirable (sometimes excellent) attempt at creating something that will resonate with old fans as well as attract new ones.

‘Pray For the Wicked’ isn’t a happy album. While a running theme seems to be Brendon’s lasting success, it’s always presented alongside the difficulties he faced to get there. ‘(Fuck A) Silver Lining,’ while being one of the album’s weaker tracks, highlights the fact that things don’t always have to be positive and is the perfect choice to set the tone for the tracks that follow.

While the themes addressed aren’t uplifting, that doesn’t mean this album doesn’t make you want to dance. The first single, ‘Say Amen (Saturday Night),’ is the kind of track you’d want to dance to in your bedroom before going out. ‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’ is equally as vivacious, addressing his success and the path he took to get there, in a way that encourages you to jump to your feet and sing as loudly and proudly as you can.

This theme runs through into ‘High Hopes’ where, accompanied by wind instruments, he discusses the struggles of pushing through potential failure, again mentioning his mother, clearly someone who has played an important role in his career. As always, Brendon’s vocals are on top form in this track (and every other track, for that matter), sounding unbelievably smooth when tackling the lower tones and hitting the high notes seemingly without effort.

‘Roaring 20s’ is the stand-out track, taking influence from 20s jazz, from the tempo to the instruments to the tone of Brendon’s voice. Further commenting on the journey to stardom, this track takes a more cynical view – why do so many people become fixated on awards at the expense of the actual music?

The album takes a slight dip in quality after ‘Dancing’s Not a Crime,’ with ‘One of the Drunks’ fading into the background somewhat. That said, the use of vocal effects towards the latter end of the track does give an accurate depiction of drunkenness, allowing you to feel the song rather than simply hear it, and it could be that its lack of impact is due to the nature of he following track, ‘The Overpass.’ It has a fast-paced, action movie vibe and wonderfully incorporates a brass band to create a massive sound that lifts the album up.

And from this point, the album remains impressive right through to the end, with the melancholy ‘King of the Clouds’ being more complex than you might initially realise, again touching on the darker side of fame. It leads into ‘Old Fashioned,’ a pop/dance track that wouldn’t sound out of place in a club if it weren’t for Brendon’s ever-smooth vocals. It’s somewhat out of place on the record, going in a completely new direction, and while it is undeniably a good track, it might have made more sense to release it separately from the album as a B-side.

Brendon’s decision to move away from real instruments towards a more synthetic sound is a natural progression in today’s music industry and one that seems – for the most part – to be working for Panic!. While he sometimes strays to more superficial themes, it successfully highlights the difficulties of making it in places such as LA, where success is expected yet simultaneously rare. Closing track, ‘Dying in LA’ encompasses this idea, as Brendon strips things back for the first time, his sweet vocals accompanied only by a piano. It brings the album together both sonically and thematically, and serves as a reminder as to who this man is and what he’s been through along the way.

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