Sound — 8
Having established a notable fanbase and some measure of critical success with 2005's debut "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" and 2008's "Pretty.Odd.", Vegas-based Panic! At The Disco (naturally) dropped its principle songsmith and bassist due to the classic "creative differences" and began working on a new studio release. What was to become "Vices & Virtues" (2011) was first suggested in the "Welcome To The New Administration" mixtape released by Pete Wentz to promote Fall Out Boy's "Folie A Deux" and other Decaydance-signed artists' upcoming releases. Among these was Panic!'s demo for "Nearly Witches", which sported departure from "Fever"'s burlesque imagery and "Pretty.Odd."'s Beatlesey pop in favor of Victorian-and-steampunk-influence. Singer Brendon Urie has taken up the mantle of songwriter (though "Nearly Witches" remained from previously mentioned lyricist Ryan Ross), with the record itself taking a step away from Panic!'s typical band-centric (whether it be rock, pop, or electronic/emo/whatever they used to do) composition in favor of somewhat more complex instrumentation and musical theatre tendencies. Where "Fever" struggled under the weight of the scene with impressing the band's musical capability (in other words, the pretentious-sounding members of the band outplayed any musical potential), "Pretty.Odd." received consistent-but-mixed scrutiny from fans and critics alike (in other words, too much of a good thing). With "Vices & Virtues", plenty of room is provided for what has always been an apparent ambition of Panic!'s musical maturity. This being said, the single greatest strength of "V&V" is its composition. A whole slew of instruments are thrown in, keeping the keyboard and synth from "Fever" and "Pretty.Odd."'s harpsichord, but throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to boot this includes but is not limited to accordion, trumpet, xylophone, vibraphone, cabasa, and an annoying kids' choir. This isn't the typical attempt at complexity by throwing too many instruments into one song; each is spotlighted masterfully (with the exception of aforementioned choir). Flavor is spotted not only in the songs, but also in the various interludes with which the record is littered. This occurs not in one song, but in every one; the result is a beautifully crafted musical delight. The band invited experimentation (further in every direction than that of the previous records), and to raving success. Every shred of schizophrenia from the debut and any irritating monotony from "Pretty.Odd." is utterly obliterated; "Vices & Virtues" is vivacious and varied. However...
Lyrics — 5
...those damn lyrics. If there were high points to "Pretty.Odd." - which, while enjoyable, was essentially on the same level throughout they were probably lyrical. "Fever" was incredibly driven by the writing, which, though at times a crippling weakness ("cause that's just ridiculously on"), gave it personality. "Vices & Virtues" is in the same way crippled by its lyrics, albeit in entirely different ways. "Vices & Virtues" is, to the best of my knowledge, the first (public) lyrical outing on the part of Brendon Urie. As such, he could certainly be forgiven if this were 2005. Unfortunately, the releases before threaten at many times to upstage him in terms of confidence. His more personal direction is more than appreciated at times ("The Ballad Of Mona Lisa", "Trade Mistakes", every line but one in "Nearly Witches") even outstanding. For the majority of the record, however, it leaves the same impression as "Pretty.Odd."'s musical direction been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Though the Panic! character is present, it isn't appropriately aged. Saying that the record feels like a lyrical step backwards may be a bit obvious, but for as good as the composition is, they stand out in the worst of ways. Anyone familiar with Urie's vocal work knows to expect a mixed bag here, he mostly impresses (by which I mean seldom annoys), which is a nice improvement. The "band-centric" feel I mentioned before is gone, and so the two elements left to spotlight are the individual performances. This draws Urie into the spotlight next to the musical composition. Thankfully, his musical theatre inflection compliments them very nicely. With "Vices & Virtues", Panic! may finally have found a genre for him to sing.
Overall Impression — 7
Panic! At The Disco will (most likely) never be a brilliant band they belong somewhere between 30 Seconds To Mars and Three Days Grace on the staying power chart but it seems they've finally broken truly exciting ground. Perhaps "struck genius" isn't appropriate, but at the very least, "Vices & Virtues" strikes a chord. Urie is better, the music is less molded to a scene and more reliant upon itself, and though lyrically weak, the songs are stronger than virtually anything they've put out prior. Deluxe versions also come with a slew of bonus tracks ("I Wanna Be Free" for more musical theatre and "TUrn Off The Lights" for a bit of a refined "Fever" flashback; "Kaleidoscope Eyes" for "Pretty.Odd." fans), all of which have something to offer. Independent of previous work, there is certainly a magnificent flow from song to song - the album truly feels like one piece, though the lyrics do often struggle. For the loyal Panic! fan, "Vices & Virtues" is a pleasant surprise, and proof that neither the scene nor any previously-established convention of music making matters even for your favorite writers of sins (not tragedies). For me personally something of a fan of "Pretty.Odd." but not enthusiastic about the band apart from that and for any casual listener, there is a lot to be enjoyed and quite potentially an up-and-coming maker of merit-worthy tunes. It's a real step up from chiming in with a "haven't you people ever heard of closing the god**** door."