Up until recently, Panic! at the Disco (formerly known as Panic at the Disco who was formerly known as Panic! at the Disco … ) seemed like it might have been yet another casualty of emo and pop-punk’s decline. Their last album came out in spring of 2008, and since then they’ve found themselves down two members. Though they released a song (“New Perspective”) on the “Jennifer’s Body” soundtrack shortly after the split in July 2009, their upcoming album was nothing more than a “coming soon!” myth. On March 22, the myth finally became a reality, soothing the legions of fangirls with the release of their newest album, “Vices & Virtues.”
Panic! fans, like myself, will like this album no matter what. The remaining original members, frontman Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith are fan-pleasers just by their virtue of existing. Though Panic! was injured by guitarist and lyricist Ryan Ross’s and bass player Jon Walker’s exits, the band’s third effort proves they’re still kicking — or at least figuring it out.
The album opens strong with “The Ballad of Mona Lisa.” Panic!’s typical storytelling lyrics are met with the layering of high-energy guitar and drums as well as the synths and strings fans missed from the first album. The second song, “Let’s Kill Tonight” is just as strong as the first — it’s reminiscent of their first album’s catchy “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” The song’s chorus may be the next, “Haven’t you people ever heard of closing the goddamn door?” One thing’s for sure: their sophomore effort’s faux folksy acoustics are long gone, and I’m glad.
Third track, “Hurricane,” keeps up the feel of the preceding tracks with its suggestive lyrics and steady instrumentation, but the album takes a turn for the “Wait, what?” as soon as it ends. “Memories” is a pseudo-eighties pop-rock song a la The Police, and the album’s somewhat rudimentary songwriting is suddenly obvious: “Oh memories where’d you go / You were all I’ve ever known / How I miss yesterday / And how I let it fade away / Where’d you go-oh-oh.”
Starting with this song, the album lacks energy and direction for awhile. The great vibes set at the beginning of the album wander from pseudo-eighties to absolutely eighties to weird and indecipherable genre-bending music. Panic!’s struggle to find their footing as a duo without their previous lyric-writing powerhouse is most evident here, and with a short 10-track album I don’t know if they can afford the loss.
Just when I was losing faith in the album and in the comeback of the band I loved in high school, the soft and lovely “Always” is a break from overdone synths and overproduced floundering. Urie proves that he’s great at short and sweet ballads. The album picks back up, coasting through the soul-baringly honest “The Calendar” (“There is simply nothing worse than knowing how it ends / And I meant everything I said that night”) and sweet love song “Sarah Smiles,” and on to the final, and best, track. “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)” is a vestige from the pre-split Panic!, penned in part by Ryan Ross and released as a minute-long demo back in 2008. The staccato, syncopated electronic waltz starts with a French chorus, takes listeners through a tour of P!atD history and ends with a children’s choir revisiting the opening song’s Mona Lisa.
But even so, the album feels short. If you buy the album on iTunes, you’ll get “Stall Me” and “Oh Glory!,” and if you crawl around the Internet you’ll find the rest of the six various bonus tracks. The bonus tracks are actually better than some of the official songs on the album and are an absolutely necessary part of the “Vices & Virtues” experience.
Overall, “Vices & Virtues” is a solid effort. The struggle to find solid ground and a new post-split identity seems to be the difficult third member of the band. There is no doubt that this album is an identity crisis, but not an unpleasant one to sit in on. With strong vocals, the power of nostalgia and moments of lyrical and musical greatness, this album is worth it for old Panic! at the Disco fans. Though the album falters and wanders through uncertain territory, the progress made here is sure to manifest in the band’s shiny new future.
Rating: 3/5 Stars