Friday, November 1, 2013

A Collar Full of Chemistry and Catchy Songs

The latest Panic at the Disco record wasn’t a mystery to me. I didn’t even know it existed.

In fact, I came to find out about “Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!” in the most antiquated way possible – I saw the album listed on the charts.

But I only realized that after discovering it in the most 2013 way possible – a tweet about Miley Cyrus.

panic at the disco vegas
Yes, I saw a tweet that linked to an article about Miley Cyrus tweeting with Panic’s lead singer (and really, the entire band) Brendon Urie. Upon reading the nominal article, which is simply the embedded tweets before the two in a fantastic bit of social media link bait, I learned that the new Panic album was #2 on the charts.

Wait, what? They have a new album? It’s #2? People still buy albums?

There were more than a few thoughts floating through my head when I went to Spotify in an effort to listen to this new album. Mostly, I had no expectations. Whereas the return of Fall Out Boy this year, brought huge hopes – they delivered, by the way, in spades – the notion of a new Panic at the Disco record made little impact.

Yes, I liked their first two records. Yes, I knew Brendon Urie had a great voice. Yes, I knew they had potential. But I also knew the group had gone through multiple lineup changes and had largely disappeared for the past few years.

The first song, This is Gospel, is good. The second song, Miss Jackson, was the lead single and decent. I was intrigued to keep listening but I had yet to be amazed. I was wondering, after a full 6 minutes, how this record was the #2 seller in the United States. Was it a simple matter of the band having a bigger following than I had given them credit for? Are album sales so minute these days – who buys a full album anymore? – that even a small bump could overinflate a band’s standing.

Then Vegas Lights hits. It starts with children counting up to 10…and then down from 10 to 1. When they finish, there is a pause. Then the bass kicks in. The drums start. The melody hits. And Brendon Urie’s magnificent voice swoops in.

Ok, I knew instantaneously. I got it. This is where the album starts proper.

“Oh, if you only knew
What we've been up to
I guarantee you'd keep it secret
So give it to me now
We're lost in a dream now”

Urie’s skill as a frontman have never been about the lyrics. The lyrics are secondary to the instrument he plays, which is a voice that rings true, rings strong and rings authentic. It’s also captivating. Much like Patrick Stump and Fall Out Boy, Urie’s brings you in, pushes you out and forces you to pay attention. It’s melodic to the point of absurdity – no one should be able to sing like that!

He has made it clear in interviews that the album was inspired by his hometown of Las Vegas. This is not exactly new ground either, as the Killers have used Las Vegas and Brandon Flowers’ imagery of the city for years.

In this album, as ham-fisted as it is in Vegas Lights, it is the sound far more than any of the words that hammer home the feeling of Las Vegas.

That is the secret to the album and why it flows so well – it’s the soundtrack to a night of chaos on the Vegas strip. It feels like a late night. It’s over before you know it – a relative blur that checks in at just over 30 minutes. The songs blend into one another. There is no overriding storyline. There are no deep, thoughtful songs about the pain of celebrity or life on the road.

It’s about dancing, partying and sex. It’s lyrics like this from Nicotine: “It’s a fucking drag / I taste you on my lips and I can't get rid of you / So I say damn your kiss and the awful things you do / Yeah, you're worse than nicotine.”

If you can’t figure it out – the singer is addicted to the lover in the song. Did he just compare her to a cigarette? He sure did. What is more late-night Vegas than that? When you’re finishing up your second pack of smokes in the one place in America where that’s not frowned upon?

The songs continue on that same path, building up to a catchy, intoxicating plateau where it is almost literally impossible to stop listening. On Girls/Girls/Boys – a big hit now thanks to a naked Urie homage to D’Angelo – the sex comes pouring through the speakers.

How could it not? He’s singing about a girl who can’t decide between fucking girls, or fucking guys, or fucking both. It’s needlessly dirty. It’s hopelessly addictive. I feel at this point, you could just write a description of a Bachelor Party weekend in Vegas and superimpose in on this record.

My favorite song on the album is Collar Full, which is just a 3-minute tour de force of overwhelming dance rock pop. The lyrics are meaningless. Unless they are being sung by Urie.

“Show me your love, your love
Gimme more but it's not enough
Show me your love, your love
Before the world catches up
Cuz there's always time for second guesses, I don't wanna know
If you're gonna be the death of me, that's how I wanna go”

You cannot describe in words how Urie’s voice dances up and down with the music for the last two lines up there. You have to listen to it.

In the end, Panic at the Disco delivered a spectacular album because, much like the city that inspired it, they did what they do well extremely well.

In the 1990’s, Las Vegas tried to become a “family-friendly” tourist attraction, which had the devastating effect of not attracting families while driving away the gamblers and partiers that build the city. They retreated to their sweet spot – the now-infamous “What Stays in Vegas” theme. As the economy cratered, Vegas doubled down on their bread & butter – you come here to party, to gamble, to have fun and to escape.

Panic at the Disco had tried different things musically in the past, with varying degrees of success. I like when bands try. But it becomes a point when bands are forced to try everything in a desperate attempt to appeal to a fickle music press and an even more fickle music-loving public. Even when it works, like Kanye’s Yeezus, there are those who don’t like the new direction. When it doesn’t work, well you can probably recall about a thousand concept albums that were better left undone.

There is none of that here. Of the first 9 songs, they each last between 3:09 and 3:27, as if they are paying homage to Billy Joel’s Entertainer. Remarkably, 2 songs come in at 3:09 and 2 songs come in at 3:18. Even more remarkably, these duo songs of the same length are played back to back on the record.

They made the same type of song 9 times! And I love it!

Like Randy Moss running nothing but fly patterns or Randy Johnson throwing nothing but fastballs, Panic at the Disco never strays from their successful formula for even a minute until the typical album closer.

I never listen to the closer. When Collar Full ends, the record ends for me. And I immediately start listening to it again. As I have as I wrote this. And as I will as soon as I post this. 

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1 comment:

  1. I am disappointed you never listen to The End Of All Things, the finality of the song, Urie's amazing pipes and the strong piano is beautiful and elegant, It's a great way to end an album.

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