Pray For The Wicked by Panic! at the Disco
Panic! At The Disco’ frontman Brendon Urie is one of the most irrepressible characters in music, and nothing sums that up better than new album Pray For the Wicked; the follow-up to the band’s first number one album, 2016’s Death Of A Bachelor.
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Panic! have never released the same album twice, but on Pray For The Wicked it feels as if they’ve finally managed to channel that frenetic, slightly chaotic attitude into a studio album that is at once eclectic and coherent.
The album opens with two previously released singles: “(F**k a) Silver Lining” and “Say Amen (Saturday Night)”; each with a very different mood. “Silver Lining” is like a grown-up version of Veruca Salt’s tantrum “I Want It Now” from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory; whether Urie is the greedy child or sceptical candy man is debatable, and either works.
Meanwhile “Say Amen” features one of Urie’s strongest vocal performances to date, thanks in most part to that ludicrous high note (he undertook breathing training for his role in musical Kinky Boots) as the song reaches its climax; a note that seems so impossible that it is explained in the accompanying music video with a kick to the groin.
“Dancing’s Not A Crime” is a joyful, uplifting pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Robbie Williams Best Of. Indeed, Urie, an unabashed fan of Williams, recalls the former Take That frontman’s swagger and bounding energy on the resplendent chorus, backed by a fantastic brass band. There are plenty of self-deprecating jabs at his eccentric character (“can’t take me anywhere”) but also his urge to just let loose and have fun, and not give a s**t about what anyone else thinks.
Urie – who grew up in the City of Sin (Las Vegas) and moved as an adult to the City of Angels (Las Angeles) – spoke recently in an interview withThe Independent about how his Mormon upbringing instilled an inherent sense of guilt over anything that might be considered the slightest bit “bad” (“the first time I swore, I thought God was going to hit me with a lightning bolt”). But he doesn’t shy away from his background on Pray For The Wicked. Rather, he embraces it, and melds it with his experience of living in LA and astute observations of all its contradictions and hypocrisies, plus a general tone of hedonistic glee that listeners are encouraged to join in on.
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On “Roaring 20s” Urie makes references to Broadway and adopts a theatrical delivery and a New Orleans-style swing that harks back to his stint in Kinky Boots – or the baroque style pop from earlier albums – while “One Of The Drunks” is distinctly electro-pop; “Old Fashioned” starts out with a hip-hop beat before dropping into more of a Latin American influence with a fantastic, raspy sax. Throughout the album there is a distinct Oliver Twist vibe of rags-to-riches, despite the odds: the single “High Hopes” speaks of “Shootin’ for the stars when I couldn’t make a killin’/Didn’t have a dime but I always had a vision” while “King Of The Clouds” is a psychedelic '..Mr Kite' trip to the heavens: “Some only live to die, I’m alive to fly higher.”
Finally, “Dying In LA”, a standout song on the album, is a subtle piano ballad that Urie wrote with American actress and singer Morgan Kibby; here he abandons the bolshie instrumentation and opts instead for sweeping, cinematic strings and stark, emotive vocal work. On Death Of A Bachelor, closing track “House Of Memories” felt slightly misplaced and oddly produced. “Dying In LA” atones for that with subtle, deft touches and a poignant, lingering final note that drifts out into the sound of birds. Pray For The Wicked is as sinfully good as anything Panic! have done before, so we might as well indulge.