Nowadays, Brendon Urie is the only original Panic! At The Disco member still panicking at the disco. With Pray for the Wicked – Urie’s second album without his former bandmates — Panic! At The Disco is once again presented as an electro-pop solo act rather than a rock band. The emo sad boy vibes of old have been traded in for a theatrical, jazzy, over-the-top pop production, as was done in 2016’s Death of a Bachelor.
Urie, it seems, is still wearing a pair of kinky boots and showing them off after his Broadway stint in “Kinky Boots.” His Broadway influences and eccentricities shine through in the album, though they don’t quite stand up against the golden era of Panic! at the Disco’s band days.
Realistically, any music that Urie releases is going to do well. His flawless, flexible soul voice is settled firmly into his tool belt — along with a loyal fan base of almost 15 years. Upon its release, Pray for the Wicked reached No. 1 on U.S. iTunes as said fans surged to purchase the newest release by the one-member band.
Urie’s status as a music icon doesn’t mean that he can do no wrong, however. Disappointingly, the album is missing most of the graceful intricacy that earned Urie his fans back in 2005. Generally lackluster, occasionally messy, excessively decorated and filler-heavy, Pray for the Wicked appears to be intended as a better, poppier and louder follow-up to Death of a Bachelor.
Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its predecessor — an album that didn’t even set the bar too high. Most of the tracks on the album are forgettable pop bops with jazzy riffs that overly depend on repetition. “(Fuck a) Silver Lining,” “Dancing’s Not a Crime,” “The Overpass” and “One of the Drunks” are perfectly passable — if they were the releases of an up-and-coming pop singer instead of an established musician. They’re fun, but they’re not much more than that.
Despite the abundance of filler tracks, there are a few gems on the album. “King of the Clouds,” which is simultaneously R&B, EDM and pop, is exactly the type of innovative, genre-defying track that fans expect from Panic! at the Disco. “Old Fashioned” also lives up to expectations. It’s in line with the album’s party theme, but its successful — and impressively not tacky — marriage of R&B and Broadway musical influences allows it to stand with the band’s legacy as a musical innovator and genre defier.
The album closer, “Dying in LA,” is the perfect tug-at-your-heartstrings ballad, taking full advantage of Urie’s impressive vocal range. Its dependence on violin and piano provides a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the album, finally giving listeners a second to breathe.
While Pray for the Wicked definitely boasts impressive tracks, it is still the product of a musician searching for his footing as a solo artist. Panic! at the Disco, in its band form, never wanted to commit to a genre. Clearly, Urie feels the same way about his current endeavors. His past two releases just haven’t quite been successful encapsulations of this defiance, mixing genres in a gratuitous manner rather than with the careful consideration that produced iconic Panic! at the Disco albums such as Pretty. Odd. and Vices & Virtues.
Although he’s arguably the most famous original member of the band after serving as its frontman — and, now, its only man — Urie has not yet come to wholly represent Panic! at the Disco on his own. This is made all the more obvious in his fumble to figure out how to “preach with conviction,” now that he’s preaching alone.
Urie is undoubtedly holding back on the punch-in-the-gut, rebel-with-a-cause sound that characterized his band’s early days. Instead, he’s succumbing to the demands of mainstream pop — but this may not be set in stone. Only time, and Panic! at the Disco’s next release, will tell.