I’m going to start this review by flat-out admitting that I don’t think Panic! At The Disco will ever be able to top Pretty. Odd. again. A poppy experiment with Kinks-esque sounds, Pretty. Odd. was immediately followed by the band’s original members splintering off in their own directions – Ryan Ross and Jon Walker started The Young Veins, which released one album before going on an immediate hiatus, while Brendon Urie (the only member of this band you likely recognize, because he wears the top hat in the “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” video) and Spencer Smith got the Panic! name and a somewhat dubious legacy as a not-great emo band. That version of Panic! At The Disco promptly made one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard, Vices and Virtues, which has two somewhat decent songs lodged amidst a whole bunch of reductive, clichéd filler.
I also wasn’t very excited about Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!’s lead single, “Miss Jackson”, featuring Lolo. Panic! At The Disco’s biggest downfall has always been that, at any given time, they sound exactly like Fall Out Boy. Pretty. Odd. succeeds largely because it’s the only album in the Panic! discography that doesn’t sound like it was ripped off wholesale from Pete Wentz’s notebook doodles. And even after two years, it’s somewhat disheartening that large sections ofToo Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! have similar roots and inspirations to Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock and Roll, just with more electronic instruments. “Miss Jackson” is the worst offender by far, but it isn’t by any means a bad song. It’s catchy, has a nice building chorus, and Urie’s vocals are very strong, even though he’s doing his best Patrick Stump impression. It’s just so unoriginal as to be rendered toothless.
A lot of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare To Die! comes off as fairly unoriginal – it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and while it’s certainly not terrible or unpleasant to listen to, it’s not particularly innovative or ear-catching, either. A lot of this album reminds me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, especially album cuts “Girl That You Love” and “Casual Affair”, which both take use of throbbing synthesized hooks to illuminate the innate seediness of their lyrics and the guttural growls of Brendon Urie. The electronic sounds of a Vegas-esque eighties bang around the entire album’s soundscape, from the hair-metal riffs inside of bouncy “Nicotine” to the cotton candy synth intro to “Girls/Girls/Boys”. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of really great lyrical content here to match the musical craft – the most interesting song in that regard is also “Girls/Girls/Boys”, which speaks of the highly glamorous and hirsute behaviors of bisexual women. (I am being serious here.) Most of the album is not interested in interesting you in fancy twists of tongue, but with creating an auditory experience.
The album only partially succeeds in creating that soundscape. A lot of the songs blend together, and are indistinguishable melodically from each other save a few flourishes (the aforementioned intro to “Girls/Girls/Boys”; the showgirl chant that’s interspersed throughout “Vegas Lights”). On one hand, it creates a nice tapestry, evoking the glittery best and disgusting worst of their Vegas-esque city; on the other hand, I was wracking my brain trying to remember what half of the songs were called after more than a dozen listens of the album. Aside from two tracks, “Miss Jackson” and “This is Gospel”, nothing distinguishes itself for better or worse, and the whole experience comes off as middling at best.
There is one track that does stand out above the rest – the opener, “This Is Gospel”, which, while a clumsy mixture of the kind of funky pastoral riffs in Pretty. Odd. and the sweeping melodrama that made them famous on their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, is at least trying to find its own voice. Voice is the main theme of the song (a theme not picked up anywhere else in the album), with Urie begging those who take his music as words to live by: “if you love me, let me go!” Perhaps fittingly, the song doesn’t really blend with anything else on the album – a warning that the band from Vices and Virtues is, from this moment forward, gone.
Why the album as a whole couldn’t have been driven by the eclectic mix of chorale, autotune, and grime of “This Is Gospel”, and instead reads as dirty eighties dance music by way of Fall Out Boy, I really couldn’t tell you. There’s still potential for Panic! to break out again and release something as masterful as Pretty. Odd.; this album, unfortunately, is not up to those standards. – Haley Anne
[author ]Haley was basically born and raised as a music lover, a writer, and someone with generally eclectic tastes. A classically trained opera singer, she recently got her Bachelors in Communications, Culture, and Public Affairs from Long Beach, after writing a very long screed on hypermasculinity in emo music. She was totally a member of the Black Parade in high school, and her favorite band is still Fall Out Boy. She is likely the worst possible person to organize all the music writing for the front page, but she’s gonna do her best, damn it. [/author]