Death Of A Bachelor was a real turning point for Panic! At The Disco, an album that saw Brendan Urie develop his confidence as a solo artist and hone his work into a truly watertight pop prospect, something that his first attempt Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die had proven incredibly spotty at. It’s hardly a surprise that returning to the more brazen, theatrical side that made A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out such a fan favourite worked, and where the skittish pick ‘n’ mix approach to genres had always indicated that Panic! At The Disco had never really known where their biggest strengths lied, that was then album that solidified the best possible path to take. Urie’s more successful now than he has been in years, so surely something must’ve gone right.
But ever since Pray For The Wicked was announced, it’s been an open question of how it’ll turn out. After all, Panic! At The Disco’s releases have been riddled with inconsistencies from the very beginning, and there’s no guarantee that, even if the Death Of A Bachelor formula was to be revisited here, it would turn out as expected. And really, that depends on how appealing the idea of Urie giving his ego a good stroke for half an hour seems (and if not, why are you listening to a Panic! At The Disco album in the first place?). Here, Death Of A Bachelor’s Frank Sinatra guise has been shed, and Urie now steps into one more reminiscent of a Jay Gatsby figure, owning the room and well aware that his own extravagance makes him the most magnetising person there. If this was anyone else, it would be ridiculously insufferable, but given that Panic! At The Disco are one of the scant few rock acts to date who’ve made a convincing transition to pop, you get the feeling that Urie has kind of earned it, and Pray For The Wicked is exactly what a victory lap of this calibre should be – flashy, over-the-top and stupid levels of fun.
And a big part of that is because, unlike so many others who’ve tried the same thing, Urie knows how to craft a pop song that you’d actually want to listen to. There’s not an overweight drop or dour, desaturated tone to be found, and instead blaring horns are splashed in whenever possible and there’s a relentless, rambunctious energy that rarely lets up. Sure, there’s the odd dud like the rather thin hook of Old Fashioned, but it’s just so good to finally hear someone swinging for the fences in a style like this, especially when it pays off as much as it does. There’s a hip-hop swagger that pairs perfectly with the effortless swing of (Fuck A) Silver Lining and Hey Look Ma, I Made It, and High Hopes and Dancing’s Not A Crime are so emphatic in their pop worship and embrace it by becoming so much more grand and lavish. Even on Say Amen (Saturday Night), easily the most standard song here in its approach of big, percussive pop-rock, there’s enough to distinguish it from others of its sort thanks to the ever-blazing horns and Urie’s incredible range. And as a lynchpin for an album, it’s hard to think of a better one than him, hitting the Broadway-trained high notes that run circles round his peers, and gives a track like Roaring 20s such a propulsive sense of theatricality.
It’s definitely welcome too, particularly in Urie’s espousal of the high life that fuels so much of this album. And again, it really feels like Urie has earned the right to do this; the rise detailed on Hey Look Ma, I Made It and High Hopes feels triumphant in a way that’s never usually the case, and thus there’s a tangibility to the hedonism that follows, whether that’s the glamorous, blacked-out parties on Roaring 20s, the wild, fast love of The Underpass (arguably the most decadent and energetic instrumental the album has to offer at that), or the borderline nonsensical, weed-fuelled ramblings of King Of The Clouds. It’s high-octane stuff, but Urie remains smart enough to temper his efforts by highlighting the emptiness that such an openly materialistic lifestyle leaves, with One Of The Drunks being (ironically) the most sobering dissection of how performative the life of an alcohol-driven playboy can be, and the pianos and strings on the closer Dying In LA rounding the album off on its most melancholy note. The mood is definitely celebratory overall, but the extra dimension added from just these small details is much appreciated.
But even on its own, Pray For The Wicked succeeds by simply continuing with what is potentially Panic! At The Disco’s most successful line to date. There’s rarely much of a dip in quality, and Urie only gets better at fitting the mould of a pop superstar as his music continues to get more and more electric and bracing, plus at just over half-an-hour long, it goes down an absolute treat. This is the definitive piece of proof that Panic! At The Disco have lost the least when it comes to the move to pop; if anything, they’ve probably gained more, now with sense of glam that works wonders. It’s pretty much as good as pop-rock in this vein gets.
For fans of: Fall Out Boy, Twenty One Pilots, Marianas Trench
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Pray For The Wicked’ by Panic! At The Disco is out now on Fueled By Ramen.