Genre:Hip Hop/Pop Rock
Producer: Brendon Urie, Jake Sinclair, CJ Baran
Released: 15 January, 2016
I have always had a bit of a difficult relationship with Panic! at the Disco. To me, they have always been a slightly more photogenic version of Fall Out Boy: hard to love due to their infuriating, self-conscious smugness, but thanks to their catchy hooks and left field creative calls, even harder to hate. Even if they’re trying their best with their needlessly complicated 16-word song titles, cheesy tongue-in-cheek references, and puns that were probably fun in the recording studio but just make the listener groan so hard you can feel the vocal cords rupturing.
Panic! has always been rather unfairly slapped into the Emo category despite their output actually being closer to baroque-flavoured pop rock. Over the years they’ve been trying to furiously shake that stigma off their shoulders like a particularly clingy and embarrassing bat by expanding their sound towards surprising influences such as 60’s pop, psychedelic rock and other things that their mainly teenage audience would categorize as ‘oldies’. This time, on their fifth studio album Death of a Bachelor, they’re setting their sights to hip hop and jazz. And let’s just say the transition isn’t without problems.
The album kicks off with “Victorious”, which uses the ever-so-annoying children’s playground taunting tune as the basis for its chorus melody, setting very sound course for the rest of the album: some of the hooks are infectious, but in the not fun, bubonic plague kind of way. “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” sounds like a product of a crunk act that decided to exclusively perform Queen covers, right down to the Brian May-inspired rigid guitar solo. By the third track it becomes crystal clear that the guys of Panic! at the Disco are out of their depth with the whole hip-hop shtick, having all the right tools laid before them but having no idea how to use them beyond banging them together and wishing for the best.
However, from “Emperor’s New Clothes” onwards the pieces click together. The out of place brass section suddenly fits the tone of the song, and the annoyingly catchy hooks are not so annoying it would overwhelm the catchiness. In a single, faith-restoring surge the meter goes from “underwhelming” to “amazing”, while still using the same tools. And then the band seems to get a hang of it. The title track is a smooth, very Sinatra-esque crooner that successfully mixes the traditional jazz elements with modern electronic percussion. “LA Devotee” is probably the most balanced track on the album: the song’s faster-paced rock sound works together with the more pervasive musical elements of the album, giving the song almost ska-like energy. A brief glimmer of hope starts to shine in my heart: maybe the first tracks were just teething problems caused by the new musical environment?
Unfortunately the following “Crazy = Genius” snuffs out the flame of hope like a bucket of ice water. The song feels like an early demo dug up from the depths of the band’s desk drawer: with its sloppy songwriting and suffocating, overcrowded production combined with the same problems that plagued the earlier Panic! material, including but not limited to shouty vocals, stupid lyrical references and hyperactive drum track, the song practically screams “the album was three minutes short and we had this draft lying around in the studio”. The rest of the album fares barely better, with every track feeling more or less balanced mess of right elements in a wrong order without discernible highs or lows.
Death of a Bachelor contains too few good tracks to save it from the truly faulty ones. Some really atrocious tracks are mixed together with outright masterpieces, forming a tangled mess of far extremes that roughly meet at the average of “Ehh”.