Sound — 5
It's easy to argue that Panic! At The Disco's initial, quick rise to fame was all because frontman Brendon Urie was a shoe-in for a Patrick Stump wannabe - hell, Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz was the one who signed PATD in the first place to release their emo punk debut, 2005's "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out," likely because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But despite that simple fast-lane to popularity, PATD sought to shake things up rather than toe the line, and threw a massive, arguably jarring curveball with their follow-up album, 2008's "Pretty. Odd.," which took inspiration from vintage rock acts with its power pop/baroque pop style. Though their third album, 2011's "Vices & Virtues," wasn't much of a significant style change as it was trying to reconfigure PATD's baroque characteristics to a pop rock backbone, it acted as the mark for PATD being Urie's ship to steer wherever he desired after lead guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker left the band. That desire would later take form in a strong '80s new wave/synthpop influence in PATD's fourth album, 2013's "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!"
In the past year, PATD also lost founding drummer Spencer Smith, making Urie the only member operating the band at this point. With even more control at PATD's helm, the band's fifth album, "Death of a Bachelor," puts itself forward as being the most eclectic and varied album in their catalog thus far. Instead of aiming for one main sonic theme throughout the album like "Pretty. Odd." and "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!," Urie stuffs as many of his musical aspirations as he can into the album without discrimination or discernment. Among the recurring backbone of glitzy-produced, manic singalong pop rock (like the encumbered, made-for-spinning-class-soundtracks opener "Victorious," and the Weezer-like chord slogging of "Golden Days"), Urie goes from co-opting gospel in the uninspired "Hallelujah," attempting an old-meets-new fusion of Motown soul and contemporary trap in the eponymous song, crafting a big band pastiche in "Crazy=Genius," outfits horn sections in a quasi-ska fashion in "LA Devotee" (a refreshing variance to the expected baroque pop style PATD have leaned towards with their horn usage), and closes the album with a classic crooning number of "Impossible Year" (one of Urie's best vocal performances by far).
The genre gallivanting in "Death of a Bachelor" is generally expected from PATD at this point, but there are two glaring vices in the album's grand scheme. First is the realization that despite the colorful mix of genre attempts, the songwriting is as tame and by-the-book as can be. The album's extraneous effort to emulate old ideas (rather than innovate or reimagine) is supposed to be the praise-worthy end in itself, which, by many examples, is the new norm of pop music. One can point to the neo-retro pop likes of Sam Smith or Meghan Trainor, but for the sake of comparing within the same world, it's the same kind of mentality Fall Out Boy employed in their most recent album, "American Beauty/American Psycho" - in fact, the "Death of a Bachelor" song "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time" samples the catchy old guitar riff in The B-52's' "Rock Lobster," a recipe uncannily identical to Fall Out Boy's sample job in "Uma Thurman."
Secondly, with the album not solely focused on this retro revival, but a juggling between that and shiny pop rock, the oscillation between vintage and modern sounds throughout the album doesn't come off like a theme of captivating juxtaposition, but rather, a clashing case of Urie trying to have his cake and eat it too. The bouts of classic crooning, soul and R& B moments for him to unleash his vocal chops is a satisfying offering (especially following up from the hamstringing '80s processing his voice was subject to in PATD's previous album), but that seems to be the only reason for Urie's choice to have the album veer in that direction - showing off. By all other accounts, the diverse selection of songs in "Death of a Bachelor" doesn't congeal well, and doesn't seem to have much reason to.
Lyrics — 6
With a concept that arguably runs in tandem with the enraptured debauchery of "Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!," Urie's lyrics in "Death of a Bachelor" tells of a man who goes from a lifestyle of freewheeling hedonism to emotional attachment by, you guessed it, falling in love. Along with being another version of the same album-spanning stories Urie has crafted in past PATD albums, his first-person narrative of this story isn't extraordinary. The party-hard imagery of "Victorious" and "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time" is par-for-the-course for any vacuous, materialistic pop music (with the amnesiac likes of the latter being similar to Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"), and the arc of heartbreak in "Death of a Bachelor," "House of Memories" and "Impossible Year" is par-for-the-course for any songs about love and loss, with "Impossible Year" ending things on the same crestfallen breakup tone that the last two PATD albums ended on.
Urie's lyrical tricks also fall short in many cases, like his elementary similes ("Shooting fireworks like it's the Fourth of July" in "Victorious"), clichéd punchlines ("I've told you time and time again / I'm not as think as you drunk I am" in "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time"), and an attempted theme at intriguing contrasts in "Emperor's New Clothes" ("I'm all dressed up and naked"). But in the span of the album, the main character's transformation from vapid joy-chaser, to enamored monogamist, to a heartbroken shell of a man displays an interesting cycle from emptiness to fullness to a different kind of emptiness. Whereas the stimulating, substance-fueled party lifestyle in the beginning acts as a flashy veneer hiding an emotionally empty man, his post-breakup emptiness still harbors more substantial meaning than his former life of shallow pleasures ever did.
Overall Impression — 5
Urie's ambitions for PATD have always been a mixed bag, both in the sense of what kind of music comes as a result, and in the sense of how well it works when it manifests. With "Death of a Bachelor" being a stronger appeal to Urie's multi-faceted aspirations than any previous PATD album, it also ends up being the most cluttered album in the band's catalog. While his vocal performance makes the best case for the album, Urie's urge to dust off old music styles and trying them on for size is behind the curve in taste-making, and the necessity to maintain a contemporary sheen trips upon the vintage appeals numerous times.