For their last album, 2013’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die, Panic! at the Disco looked to their hometown, Las Vegas, for inspiration. Amidst a synth-soaked backdrop that clanged with all of Sin City’s notorious bells and whistles, Panic! summoned their own fear and loathing, but in the process sounded less like a rock band than ever before. With this massive shift (and flawless sheen) in their music, Too Weird to Live… reflects a once-famous pop-punk group questioning their place in the modern music landscape.
It’s been almost a decade since the band’s 2005 eye-liner drenched debut and just like that pesky exclamation point in their name, Panic! keep persisting. Named after one of the mediocre songs from last year’s release, the new Nicotine EP features more of the same strobe light inspired music. The former quartet, currently operating with 50 percent of its original lineup, is still fronted by the limber-voiced, quirky showman, Brendon Urie. For every alteration Panic! has made to their sound, Urie has remained a constant and on this EP, he’s not hesitant to steal the spotlight completely. At this point, Panic! might as well change their name to The Brendon Urie Project (!) because he’s hurled in our face on every song (the last track is an instrumental version of the title track). It’s depressing to see a drum machine take the place of Spencer Smith, a rock steady drummer who has always contributed to the band’s vaudevillian undertones in the past. Save for the hi-hat shuffle of “All the Boys”, Smith remains in the wings while Urie handles the reins for the entire show.
When Ryan Ross, the former main songwriter, exited in 2009, he stole away with his whimsical lyrics (see: “Nine in the Afternoon”) that made an album like Pretty. Odd. the best effort of the band’s career. In Ross’ wake, Urie is no longer just the mouthpiece and his songwriting is noticeably less catchy and shallower. Choruses are dumbed down and uninspired and exist only as an outlet for Urie to belt his musings. There are less of those “did you catch what he just said?” moments and as a fan of their first two albums, I genuinely miss that.