Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: 'Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!' by Panic! at the Disco

It's hard to think of a modern band who has so completely reinvented themselves with each album release more so than Panic! at the Disco.  From the theatrical, burlesque sound of A Fever You Can't Sweat Out to the Beatles-redux Pretty.  Odd. to Vices & Virtues's more straightforward pop tunes, Panic! has, sometimes divisively, constantly evolved.  Heck, they even dropped the ! from their name at one point.  In short, though, what's come to be expected from the band is that it's impossible to know what to expect from them.  That's equally true with their latest effort, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, which proves to be unique and, in hindsight, a natural progression of their sound.

Prior to Too Weird, Panic! released two singles, "This Is Gospel" and "Miss Jackson (feat. Lolo)" (side note: am I the only one who didn't know Lolo is Lauren Pritchard?  The things you learn...).  While definitely different, neither song would appear out of place on Vices & Virtures or even Fall Out Boy's recent Save Rock and Roll.  "Vegas Lights," complete with Sesame Street counting samples, continues this, but that's about where the idea of songs fitting into the band's back catalog ends.  "Girl That You Love" sounds more like a Depeche Mode song, or something you'd find on the Drive soundtrack (another side note: watch Drive if you haven't already).  "Nicotine" would be at home amongst club songs, while "Collar Full" embraces its pop roots and closer "The End of All Things" is a slow, haunting piano-driven orchestral ballad.

Variety is the name of the game on Too Weird, but there's a certain vibe that runs throughout that I'm hesitant to call '80s but will for lack of a better term.  A lot of that has to do with the effects on the album, from synth to vocal effects, which are off-putting at first but ultimately serve to establish the tone of the whole thing.  The distortion of lead singer Brendon Urie's voice is startling because, whether you like the band or hate them, Urie's vocal prowess can't be denied.  He still gets the chance to show off his range, like when he's belting out the chorus of "Girls/Girls/Boys," but fans wanting to hear him completely unimpeded will be left disappointed.  Still, knowing that Urie has the singing chops and isn't using these tools to cover any flaws serves to reenforce the experimental style of the album.

Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is certainly jarring on first listen.  Over time, though, it's apparent that this is exactly where - and what - Panic! at the Disco should be.  It's definitely still the same band - crazy-catchy hooks, sarcastic, sly, and self-aware lyrics, and Urie to carry them through each song - with a fresh coat of paint.  Panic! has always been as much style as substance, and we get them in equal doses here.  The style is unexpected, but isn't that what we should be expecting at this point?

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