There’s no denying that Brendon Urie is a showman. Urie’s transition into Broadway Superstar in the 2017 run of Kinky Boots felt natural; with those spellbinding tenor vocals, Urie can sing anyone under the table. But are vocals enough? As Panic! At The Disco has matured over the years, there has been an undeniable shift in focus – where their 2005 debut revelled in winding lyricisms and sharply distinctive imagery, 2018’s solo effort ‘High Hopes’ was a shallow-but-extravagant pop bonanza. New album ‘Viva Las Vengeance’ serves as the final transitional phase, abandoning Panic!’s original quirky surrealism and focusing entirely on the rock ‘n’ roll of Urie’s one-man-show.
‘Viva Las Vengeance’ is a musical, plain and simple. From the strangely patriotic ‘Star Spangled Banger’’ to the Queen-tinged brilliance of ’God Killed Rock N Roll’, you can easily picture Urie onstage all powdered up, head thrown back, bellowing out a particularly sharp note. As tracks unfold, there’s a definite Andrew Lloyd Webber quality to this pop-rock opera. However, while it shoots for the stars, this album falls short of reaching Broadway; Urie captures theatricality, nailing the soaring 70s soundscapes and deliciously catchy hooks, yet there isn’t much depth beyond the glam-rock sheen.
Tracks play into the conventions; ‘Don’t Let The Lights Go Out’ is the ‘sad’ ballad, the lone, brooding hero of our tale drowning in his emotions, while following track ‘Local God’ is the ‘empowering’ ballad seeing our hero rise from the ashes of his pain and self-doubt. Everything feels a bit too scripted, too staged. There’s a focus on the sparkle of the stage, the glitz, the glamour, and a severe lack of substance on offer.
As this album unfolds, one thing is clear: the mystique to Panic! At The Disco is no more. Lyrically, tracks are lack-lustre and shallow. ‘Sad Clown’ is perhaps one of the worst offenders, knocking out the unbelievably unimaginative “even though I’m smiling, I’m crying.” ‘Middle Of A Breakup’s chorus of “make up sex in the middle of a breakup” doesn’t even attempt depth, serving up a lazy snapshot of lust. The track pales in comparison to the previous lust-fuelled anthems Panic! have crafted – where tracks like ‘But It’s Better If You Do’ or ‘Hurricane’ rile with desire, thrumming with rich, burning sexuality, ‘Middle Of A Breakup’ lacks all nuance. Brendon Urie has sex. Okay. Cool.
‘Local God’ attempts to be the most lyrically insightful, yet it only adds to that self-congratulatory one-man-show feel. Brendon Urie has made it. Much like he already stated on 2018 Panic! At The Disco cut ‘Hey Look Ma I Made It’. Okay. Cool.
That’s not to say this album doesn’t have some amazing moments, however. Many tracks have a shimmery appeal, if you ignore the lyrical lackings. Title-track ‘Viva Las Vengeance’ is the most ‘classic’ Panic! At The Disco track on offer, somewhat of an original Panic! pastiche, but it definitely oozes euphoria and is an absolute belter. Stand-out track ‘Something About Maggie’ is also a total stunner in its musical-esque charm – it feels like a track that you’d hear in Grease, with an irresistibly quirky jazz-hands energy. The cries of “Maggie! Don’t ya know!” are simple, but a total earworm that will have you giddily singing along after just one listen.
Ultimately, ‘Viva Las Vengeance’ knows exactly what it wants to be. As Urie’s crystal-clear, brooding voice sounds out, it’s clear that this is intended to be an all-singing, all-dancing musical spectacular. While it does knock out some definite singalongs, sprinkling in some fun hooks and catchy structures, there is something missing beneath the veneer of theatricality. This is an album that hints at complexity, but it is inevitably overshadowed by Urie’s one-man-show.
Words: Emily Swingle