Famous for their reinventions and diminishing band members, Panic! at the Disco return with Pray for the Wicked, which is essentially a Brendon Urie solo album that thematically and musically feels like the sequel to Death of a Bachelor. Like Death of a Bachelor, Urie ditches his Vegas roots for Los Angeles and big band meets jazz pop music, with lyrics about partying, partying, and more partying.
Reviewing Panic! albums tends to pose a problem as each album has been so different that there is no clear best or fan favourite album. Pretty Odd being my favourite album by the band and Death of a Bachelor being my least favourite, it’s unsurprising that I’m not a huge fan of Pray for the Wicked, with its similarity to Death of a Bachelor. The band swore to ‘shake it up if you swear to listen,’ and this is the first album that breaks this trend (make of that what you will). However, Pray for the Wicked is a more realised, cohesive effort than Death of a Bachelor. Death of a Bachelor had its share of rock songs and ballads, along with trumpet-heavy songs, while Pray for the Wicked focuses on the horns and brings back strings that recall Vices and Virtues – think improved versions of Hallelujah. This is also the album’s downfall, as none of the songs are as good as the highs on Death of a Bachelor, and nearly half the album is forgettable. Most frustratingly, as Urie has an outstanding voice, he seems to think it’s necessary to sing in his upper register, and thus spends a good part of the album borderline screaming.
On the other hand, Pray for the Wicked is the first Panic! album that uses samples (there’s even a James Brown sample on The Overpass), and they happen to be effective in lieu of an actual band (Urie and touring member Kenneth Harris are the main instrumentalists, while the majority of the album is built on strings and horns). There are highlights on the album – the chorus of Old Fashioned and the strings in High Hopes, but there is little emotional depth to the songs and Urie’s lyrics are even weaker than before.
Like Fall Out Boy’s MANIA, Pray for the Wicked succeeds in alienating fans of the pop punk style the group became famous for (though MANIA was at least wildly experimental), joining the niche of pop rock music that includes Imagine Dragons. Perhaps Urie should be releasing these solo albums under his name, rather than tarnishing the band’s image (Death of a Bachelor was wildly successful anyway), or at least hiring band members to prevent the excessiveness that pervades his songs.