Panic! At The Disco exploded onto the scene in 2005 with their debut album ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’. Smashing together emo with Vaudeville theatrics, they were the quintessential Myspace group, leading a new wave of genre-splicing bands. To push back against all the labels that were thrust their way, though, the four-piece took heavy inspiration from The Beatles for 2008’s beautiful ‘Pretty. Odd.’ Divisive? You bet.
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Fast-forward 14 years and Panic! At The Disco is now the solo project of Brendon Urie, with 2016’s ‘Death Of A Bachelor’ and 2018’s ‘Pray For The Wicked‘ re-establishing him as an undeniable popstar. The giddy Broadway optimism of ‘High Hopes’ has racked up well over a billion streams on Spotify, while Taylor Swift recruited Urie for the sugary romance of ‘Me!’. His band has never been bigger.
Perhaps that’s why Panic! At The Disco’s seventh album, ‘Viva Las Vengeance’, is another pretty odd one. Pulling away from larger-than-life anthems about decadence and self-acceptance, this new record sees Urie channeling classic rock and talking to his younger self. As he sings on the glam ‘Middle Of A Breakup’: “Keep your disco / Give me T.Rex”.
Elsewhere ‘God Killed Rock & Roll’ splits its influences firmly between Queen and Kiss while the swaggering ‘Sugar Soaker’ is a rollicking, guitar-driven good time. Panic! typically strive for precision and polish but with this album recorded live to tape, there’s a ramshackle, anything-could-happen energy. The whole thing sounds like it belongs on a jukebox rather than Spotify, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever predictable, as Panic! strut between the worlds of new wave, rock’n’roll and punk with utmost confidence. If Urie was worried about drastically veering off-track, he never lets it show.
The fizzy ‘Sad Clown’ and melancholic ‘All By Yourself’ deal with isolation and derision, but there’s an optimism that comes from knowing where Urie is now. “We made it against all odds,” he sings on the funk infused ‘Say It Louder’, while the brilliantly titled ‘Star Spangled Banger’ is a rebellious call-to-arms. “We are the kids from the underground / We are the new mainstream / We are the mass hysteria,” he sings, channeling Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’.
Yes, ‘Viva Las Vengeance’ is a very different Panic! At The Disco album, but it stays true to their devil-may-care attitude Will all their fans like it? Possibly not. But Panic! have never been about pandering or following the typical path. Seven albums in, it’s refreshing to see that reckless abandon still leading the charge.
Release date: August 19
Record label: Atlantic