Two years ago I learned and listened thoroughly through Panic! At The Disco’s discography in advance of seeing their co-headlining tour with Weezer. In advance of the new album Pray For The Wicked (out June 22nd) I thought it’d be fun to dust off these albums again and rank them, from weakest to best.
#5. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out – For a lot of fans this will always be the Panic album and #1 by default despite the fact that it’s almost unrecognizable as the same band heard today. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is scrappy, chaotic, and, yes, emo-tional. But past the angsty front door is a talented band with a clear reverence for arrangement. Quirky tracks like “Time To Dance” and “Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have With Clothes On” are deceptively intricate. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” with its well-woven celeste and cellos remains the band’s signature song. Why this album ends up at the bottom of the list is that it’s actually too smart for its own good. The layers of the band, while each formidable, add up to an overall sound that’s excessively busy and pretentious. To enjoy this album now means listening for and appreciating its individual moments. It’s also still good for just closing your goddamn door and basking in melancholy.
#4. Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! – Poignant, intimate subject matter against decidedly artificial instrumentation is the juxtaposition that defines Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! Beneath the all-too-catchy chorus of “This is Gospel” is a song about drug addiction while “Girls/Girls/Boys” is far less playful than the song initially suggests. Touring bassist Dallon Weekes graduated to a full time member in yet another personnel change and we can thank him for the most walloping low end of any Panic record, for better or worse. Most notably, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! is the album where Urie transitions from a band member who sings to the buck-stops-here frontman and it’s fair to wonder if the heavy electronic pulses serve as a built in safety net for his still-developing bravado. There’s not a bad song in the mix (“The End Of All Things” is one of Panic’s most underrated) but at only 32 minutes Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! leans more on the side of underdeveloped rather than leaving the audience wanting more.
#3. Death Of A Bachelor – The morbid album title is kind of ironic considering that on this album Urie officially became a one man band. At its core Death Of A Bachelor is a record of unbridled energy and infectious adrenalin that was clearly created with live performance in mind. It’s an exhausting clip to keep up with but it works because there are so many great, catchy pop hooks. “Hallelujah,” “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time,” “LA Devotee,” and “Crazy = Genius” are especially indelible. Horns, 808s, and sampling had only shown up in flashes on previous Panic efforts but are huge characters on Death Of A Bachelor. Urie has said his chief inspiration for this album was Frank Sinatra and that’s most apparent in his decidedly swaggered vocals – which often walk a fine line between impressive acrobat and obnoxious show off. How you feel about The Brendon Urie Show likely dictates your opinion of this album as a whole.
#2. Vices and Virtues – A creative impasse led Ryan Ross and Jon Walker to somewhat abruptly depart Panic in 2009, leaving the band as a duo and thrusting Brendon Urie into the role of main creative force. Most albums from an existing band with a new configuration sound unsteady and require patience from fans but Vices and Virtues needs no conditional praise. The considerably more direct lyrics from Urie are the most jarring change (his confessionals are punctuated with “woah oh oh’s”) but musically these are some of Panic’s most realized efforts. “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” is is a polished gem in the vaudevillian vein of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out while “Sarah Smiles” is almost prog-like in its twists. Songs like “Ready To Go (Get Out Of My Mind)” plant the seed for the style that has come to dominate Urie-fronted Panic but on Vices and Virtues his pleas sound like polite invitations rather than bombastic demands. On this album Panic has both a new band’s earnestness with an established band’s sonic audacity. It makes for the most accessible album in the their canon, and one of the most enjoyable.
#1. Pretty Odd – Ah, the album AFTER the break-through album. Music’s most glorious wild card. It’s fascinating when that break-through comes on a debut album and even more compelling when a band does what Panic At The Disco did – take an unexpected left turn and alienate a lot of fans. Panic traded its exclamation point, thick eyeliner, and long song titles for retro orchestrations and condensed melodies. But for all the groaning about the more-than-slightly obvious nods to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, there’s more of Panic here than most will give them credit for. For one, their surreal and jaded lyricism is alive and well (not even John Lennon would’ve thrown in “melt your headaches, call it home.”) And no other band besides Panic 1.0 could’ve pulled off songs like “She’s A Handsome Woman” or “When The Day Met The Night.” The 60s baroque pop template, while debatable in terms of how creative it is to employ at this point, undeniably enhances these songs to a full proof level that Panic hasn’t matched since. Pretty Odd was, is, and always will be a polarizing album, but for those of us who love it that’s just part of its charm.
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