Dear Chester, I only realised a few days ago that it’s nearly been a year …
After tripping and tumbling over 2016’s hit-or-miss Death Of A Bachelor, ultra dapper vocal god Brendon Urie has mastered the art of the pop album. Pray For The Wicked is full-length #6 for Las Vegas baroque-pop outfit Panic! At The Disco, and the second under its banner as Urie’s rule-free and unruly solo project.
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As such, it’s a far cry from the Panic! we knew as snot-brained emos wagging class to kill time in Jay Jays. Long has the aesthetic drifted from overbearing eyeliner and psychedelic tee designs, and frothing this shit will no longer award you taunts from the local bullies. For better or worse, Panic! is a mainstream demon now, and Pray For The Wicked is a notably tame outing from the act once revered for its outlandish edginess.
In fact, it’s genuinely stunning to think this album shares a discography with A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005), Pretty. Odd. (2008) or Vices & Virtues (2011). Where melodramatic storytelling and puzzling, labyrinthine instrumetals cemented those records as instant masterpieces, Pray For The Wicked plants itself in simplistic, sample-heavy beats and lyricisms as deep as, “I am a successful man! I make money! I drink alcoholic beverages! Yay me!” There’s nothing on this record that commands your full, undivided attention the way Urie as a hubristic showman does on Build God, Then We’ll Talk, or he as a shroom afficionado on The Piano Knows Something I Don’t Know.
It’s obviously fine that Panic! have evolved in their 14-year unfurling—hell, no two of their records are even similar, sans this one and its predecessor—but the disconnect between Urie and the artistic breadth his talents are best applied to, and the lack of creative integrity that weighs down on Pray For The Wicked… The shark has been jumped and its corpse beaten to mush.
As a Panic! album, Pray For The Wicked is hot, steamy trash. But as a pop record on its own merit… Goddamn.
But in all honesty, it’s when an album like this rolls around that being a critic becomes torturous, because as a Panic! album, Pray For The Wicked is hot, steamy trash. But as a pop record on its own merit… Goddamn. In a scene where mundanity is cherished, Urie’s inimitable quirkiness is distinctly flavourful. One Of The Drunks flips a tired ‘drink and then fuck’ narrative on its head and spins it ’til it can’t stand no more, as does High Hopes with that of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Overpass is an unforgivingly groovy romp that could easily find itself soundtracking a blockbuster car chase, and if the 4am post-club singalong anthem is a must on a current-era pop album, Old Fashioned fits the bill with remarkable might.
And though Urie’s beats are minimal for a Panic! record, they’re admirably superlative in a modern pop soundscape. Urie has always had a keen ear for theatrical sensibilities, and the way he employs operatic strings and jazzy horns on Pray For The Wicked is beautifully virtuosic (especially on Dying In LA, the record’s swoon-inducing outro track and unmistakable highlight). It’s reminiscent of some choice cuts from Bruno Mars, with a Fergie-esque vanity driving Urie’s vocal delivery, punchy and niche samples nudging it along. And, of course, we’d be remiss to gloss over the Broadway influences.
So we’ll admit it: we’re a bit conflicted here. As LP6 in the lineage of Panic! à la Ryan Ross, Pray For The Wicked scores a generous 2/10. As the hypothetical second album from Brendon Urie as a solo pop artist, however, it’s a fierce and fiery 9/10—losing out on that lucrative perfect score only for its measly half-hour runtime. The 6/10 you see above is, all things considered, irrelevant. It’s from what angle you approach Pray For The Wicked that its qualities are best reflected, and when those varying qualities are at odds with themselves, there’s no one objective way to gauge that reflection.
So make your own damn mind up, because ours hurt too much thinking about the finer details of this album. We’d rather just lose ourselves in the high notes.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Dying In LA, Old Fashioned, The Overpass
STICK THIS NEXT TO: Bruno Mars, Fergie, Beyoncé
Pray For The Wicked is out on Friday, June 22nd via Fueled By Ramen.
Panic! At The Disco are also taking their Pray For The Wicked tour to Australia this October:
Saturday October 6th – Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Tuesday October 9th – AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Thursday October 11th – Riverstage, Brisbane
Saturday October 13th – Hisense Arena, Melbourne
Saturday October 16th – Spark Arena, Auckland
Full details on how to score your tickets can be found at frontiertouring.com/panicatthedisco