In general, bands don’t escape unscathed from the kind of catastrophic schism experienced by Panic! At the Disco. In mid-2009, the Vegas quartet lost guitarist/co-founder/lyricist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker, both of whom left to form The Young Veins. Frontman Brendon Urie and drummer/co-founder Spencer Smith vowed to continue, but it took them two years post-split to produce a new full-length.
It’s a pleasant surprise, then, that Panic’s first album as a duo, Vices & Virtues, is a delightful listen. A seamless combination of the carnivalesque flamboyance of 2005’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and the ambitious popscapes of 2008’s Pretty. Odd., the collection is both mature and whimsical.
Hate on Panic if you want, but almost nobody approaches pop music in such a fanciful way. Each song on Virtues sounds like a lush mini-movie score; traditional rock constructs mostly step aside for cinematic orchestras, brisk rhythms, twinkling percussion and stacked keyboards. Butch Walker and John Feldmann’s meticulous production helps Panic achieve its grandiose vision; Virtues is cohesive despite its diversity.
- Panic! At the Disco
- Vices & Virtues
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- Chatting with Panic's Brendon Unrie
The angelic harmonies and mincing strings of “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” bloom into a bustling electro-pop and piano tune that The Killers (wish they) could have written. “Let’s Kill Tonight” resembles The Faint, what with its “Close to Me” rhythms and boo-scary keyboards and strings, while “The Calendar” is radio-ready rock-pop embellished with music-box tinkling. Flamenco claps, muted horns and a circular disco bassline mark “The Hurricane,” and “Sarah Smiles” meshes soft-glow Beach Boys harmonies and sizzling Mariachi horns. The simplest moment on the album is vulnerable love song “Always,” and it alone features acoustic guitar, clapping rhythms, horns and a saccharine orchestra.
In the end, this feels like the album Fall Out Boy always wanted to make but never quite created. You might say that with Virtues, the student has surpassed the master.