Throughout their 12 year history, Panic! At the Disco have been no strangers to change. Landing somewhere between emo, alt. rock, synthpop, and baroque pop, the band has experimented with a multitude of sounds across four albums. What’s even more inconsistent is their ever-changing lineup. After the departure of longtime drummer Spencer Smith, and multi-instrumentalist Dallon Weekes stepping down creatively, frontman Brendon Urie is now the sole member of this project (which many would’ve assumed since he’s been the literal poster boy for the band for some time), and with full creative control in his hands, Urie decided to channel his inner Frank Sinatra and Freddie Mercury on Panic!’s fifth record, Death of a Bachelor.
Opening track “Victorious” is triumphant and screams Queen in multiple areas. There’s this well-controlled swagger throughout that Urie has finally mastered, letting it loose with his dynamic and sometimes aggressive vocals. Combined with VERY loud drums and an array of horns, it’s hard to tell that Panic! was ever an emo act to begin with. Following is “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time”, which opens with a sample of “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s and leads into another loud pop rock beat. Urie sits at a piano and utters lines like “Who are these people? I just woke up in my underwear” and “I lost a bet to a guy in a Chiffon skirt, But I make these high heels work”. It’s an unapologetic party anthem that doesn’t let up; if the instrumentation isn’t representative of that, the lyricism focuses back in the dreaded aftermath. “Hallelujah” is one of a few tracks that carries that Vegas-inspired sound that I fell in love with on the last Panic! record “Too Weird to Live, Too Young to Die!”. It’s kind of the song’s saving grace though, as I really haven’t been able to connect with it since its release back in April 2015. It’s not that it’s a bad song in the slightest; I just think there are stronger tracks that could’ve been used as a lead single. “Emperor’s New Clothes” was actually the first track from this record that grabbed my attention (and not just because of its clever music video). Lyrically paralleling the current state of the project, Urie is just as aggressive as ever with his vocal work and the underlying feeling of gloom bleeds into the instrumentation quite well.
The title track is edging out a few others for my favorite track on the record. Maybe it’s because we get to hear Urie go full Sinatra. Maybe it’s because his vocal control and delivery on this track alone transcends his delivery on the rest of the album (which is executed flawlessly). Maybe it’s because no Panic! fan could’ve enjoyed something this jazz-oriented back in 2004. In the end, I think it’s all of the above. Anyone would be foolish to pass this one up. “Crazy=Genius” has a strong big band feel to it with its drum groove and instrumentation. Lyrically, it’s highly telling of Urie’s musical abilities, as the nameless significant other compares him to The Beach Boys by telling him “…you’re just like Mike Love, But you’ll never be Brian Wilson”. He cleverly retorts with “…If crazy equals genius, Then I’m a f**king arsonist”. It’s blunt and honest, given that Urie’s status as a one-man band is positively solidified by this entire record since he played nearly every instrument. “LA Devotee” could come across as another typical punk pop track had it not been for the backing brass section, giving it somewhat of a ska influence. Aside from the unexpected but delightful key change at the end, there’s not a whole lot to say about this one other than that it’s a feel-good track if I ever heard one; an absolute highlight for the second half of the record. “Golden Days” is lyrically nostalgic and musically one of the more rock-like songs on the album (albeit still upbeat). This one is a little hard to swallow at this point in the record, but multiple listens might help that.
“The Good, The Bad & The Dirty” feels a little bit like a distant cousin to “Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Miss Jackson” from the last Panic! record. There’s nothing that exactly stands out here, but its overall production is quite impressive. “House of Memories” starts out with some sweeping electronics, soft piano, and electric guitar, all of which slightly build into the rest of the song. The tempo change during the bridge slows it down enough for Urie to use his full vocal register a little more. As a whole, the track isn’t all that bad. The album closes on “Impossible Year”. Another Sinatra-like cut, its instrumentation consists solely of a grandiose brass section, a piano, and Urie’s voice. It ends slightly unresolved, fading out into some sort of distortion, making for an interesting way to finish the record.
The opportunity that Death of a Bachelor presented from the beginning is an ambitious one. Brendon Urie could’ve take Panic! At the Disco’s sound wherever he wanted. As atonement for being the last remaining member, he could’ve done another emo record, but that would be sinful in itself, especially in 2016. He could have relied on baroque pop or synthpop throughout, but those are only touched upon briefly. This was his chance to shape the future of this project, and his final decisions prove that not only can Death of a Bachelor live up to the title of a Panic! record, but that he’s an unstoppable force in his genre and market. Sure, it’s not a perfect record, but it touches upon concerns I had with the last Panic! record (notably that every song was too predictable for its short runtime). It also reflects this emo to pop transition better than any other record I’ve heard recently (sorry, Fall Out Boy). Despite its few shortcomings, notably in the latter half, Death of a Bachelor is a very strong record, and succeeds in more ways than you’d expect, making for an enjoyable listen.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R03cqGg40GU[/youtube]