Keeping up with Panic! at the Disco requires fans to exercise a great deal of flexibility in both their musical tastes and in their expectations of the band. Since their debut in 2005 with the vaudevillian alternative rock album “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” and the hit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” the band has released no two albums alike. In fact, Panic! released its second album under a slightly different name, having dropped the exclamation point for “Pretty. Odd.,” released in 2008, a move that outraged some fans and one that was remedied within the year.
Two of Panic!’s four members departed after the release of the group’s sophomore album, as they wished to continue down the ‘60s rock path charted by their most recent release. The subsequent “Vices & Virtues” (2011) may be the group’s closest example of a repeat performance, straying close to the sounds of “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out,” but with tracks like “New Perspective” (2011). Bridging the gap between the third album and Panic!’s most recent release, “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!” (2013) introduced the band and its audience to a more electronic sound. Both the thematic and musical content have matured and modernized as the band continues to progress and innovate.
“Death of a Bachelor,” released in the middle of January, could be the group’s most baffling offering to its fans yet. In some ways, it is a logical progression from the modern electronic rock sounds pioneered on “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!,” while, in other ways, it is an odd throwback. If a concise description of the musical genre of this album had to be given, it would be electronic retro rock (yikes). If that’s not descriptive enough, imagine the staple instruments of today’s most successful alternative and rock pop groups (synthesizers, voice modulation, drum machines) applied to the ditties of yesteryear and the lyrical swagger of Frank Sinatra. It works surprisingly well.
However, the opening track belies the album’s major musical themes, if not its lyrical ones. “Victorious” is a bombastic and theatrical rock pop introduction that opens up fast. The charisma and mystique of Urie’s vocals should draw in listeners otherwise wary of the track’s instrumentation—or the fans offended by the dramatic pop elements pervasive throughout the song. There is definitely a debate to be had about Panic! at the Disco’s position as the rock counterpart to Lady Gaga and her uber theatrical pop smorgasbord (yes, the descriptions are over the top but so is the subject matter).
Like most of the tracks on “Death of a Bachelor,” “Victorious” is a celebration of life, invincibility and partying. As the chorus repeats, “Tonight we are victorious / Champagne pouring over us / All my friends are glorious / Tonight we are victorious.” While perhaps not the most representative of the album, the track is easily recognizable and confidently declares the thesis for most of the tracks to come.
“Hallelujah” offers a break from the celebrations, instead turning inward as Urie sings about spiritual struggles and the loss of days and times and people now in his past. In fact, the album seems either a nostalgia trip of parties and wild times gone by or a confession of a man transitioning into full adulthood (after all, Urie is now 28 and married). The latter theory definitely makes the album’s title a little more meaningful.
The titular song, “Death of a Bachelor,” showcases the Sinatra influences most clearly with balladic swoons and high swings, and “Emperor’s New Clothes” marks the theatrical highnote of the album—its hellish soundscape should leave listeners confused and entertained, eager to parse it out.
In being so different from its successors, “Death of a Bachelor” is true to Panic! at the Disco’s form. Brendon Urie, as the sole member of the original group still marching on, has innovated on his previous work to deliver a bombastic pop record that remains quirky and true throughout.