From dropping two band members, losing and regaining an exclamation mark and going from twisted cabaret, to retro folk songs all in six years, Panic! At the Disco have ended up here, with Vices and Virtues. The now duo have made no secret of the struggles they faced after losing their main songwriter but in this album they trade the melodramatic theatrics of the past for a more mainstream pop-rock sound, retaining the charming quirk that makes them unique.
The first song of the album ‘Mona Lisa’ hones back to A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out roots with the haunting piano intro, infectious hooks and storming chorus setting a precedent for the rest of the album. Urie’s vocals even hearken back to the top-hats-and-eyeliner Fever days where he sung as if he were about to bubble over. With a reminder of the past, fans are settled into the new album with the lyrics suggesting a darker undertone of Urie’s own internal conflict and that within the band. Panic! are not safe from the electro bandwagon, as shown in the strangely upbeat, ‘Let’s Kill Tonight’ with the whirring synths and strings adding a more gothic effect
Although starting with xylophone and soft vocals, ‘Trade Mistakes’ twists into a passionate chorus, while still managing to stay controlled. However this could also be the song that most aptly represents one of the album’s main problems: the lyrics. Whilst Panic!’s lyrics have always been exuberant, the loss of Ryan Ross meant that with Urie taking the song writing reigns, the lyrics sometimes cross the line into the ridiculous. Whilst the bizarre storylines of the past two albums have been dropped for more traditional, romantic subjects, ‘Trade Mistakes’ indulges in a bit of pretentious French lyricism, “With sentimental boy as my nom de plume” and the even more silly, “If I could trade mistakes for sheep, Count me away before you sleep.”
Whilst the first half of the album revels in Fever terrain, the second half reverts back to Pretty. Odd with the pretty, acoustic ballad ‘Always’ showing a more restrained, scaled down Panic! and also providing diversity to the album. However we are completely thrust back into the more bizarre as ‘Nearly Witches’ mixes baroque with horror movie sound effects and comes complete with a French choir, swooping chorus and falsetto with equally odd lyrics. Erratic and insane as this may be, it is a perfect way to bow out of a pretty polished album.
Although lacking slightly in the pizzazz and general weirdness of their previous albums, Vices and Virtues should contain the right amount of exuberance to win back Fever fans, whilst attracting a new audience that was slightly too overwhelmed by it before. From unstable grounds they have produced an eccentric pop album destined to be a sing-along favourite (‘Memories’ in particular). However with a bit more identity searching and a little more song writing practise there is definitely room for them to raise the bar from merely good album territory to something more extraordinary.