Ever since its inception roughly ten years ago, Panic! At The Disco has continuously reinvented itself. Debut effort A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was an endearing slice of catchy emo punk; sophomore LP Pretty. Odd. was a masterful ode to the colorful warmth of 1960s pop music, complete with plenty of orchestration and gripping harmonies; Vices and Virtues replaced some organic textures with electronic influences while maintaining fantastic songwriting. Although the sounds may change from album to album, the group has always delivered enticing, unique melodies and arrangements — that is, until now. With its repetitious foundations and soulless surface, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is simply too obnoxious, generic, and uninvolving to endure.
The title of the album comes from Hunter S. Thompson’s most famous novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Similarly, the music and lyrics were inspired by vocalist Brendon Urie’s recollections of that city and the lifestyle it promotes. In an interview with MTV News last July, Urie admits that when he left the city as a teenager, he was bitter; now, as an adult, he allowed himself to indulge in its [in]famous party scene. He says, “People go [to clubs] to lose themselves in the moment, and drop their guard, and it hit me in a way. Like, ‘Wow, I want to do that. I want to make music like that…that makes you feel good‘.” Indeed, this LP is packed with glitz and glamour, as its hip hop influence dominates throughout. Sadly, like the fabled victims of Las Vegas itself, Urie and company seem to have lost themselves in pursuit of a superficial experience.
Truthfully, Too Weird… feels more like a continuation of Vices & Virtues than anything else, as the latter introduced some of the techniques that would be embraced fully here. “This is Gospel” is a promising opening, as slightly auto-tuned harmonies melt into invigorating loops and other trademark hip hop effects. As always, the overlapped vocal patterns elevate the production among that of many contemporaries, making the piece sound like quintessential P!ATD. Along the same lines, Urie’s performance is as powerful and passionate as ever; he really is a phenomenal singer. Although it feels less gripping than anything on the last record, it’s still a decent way to begin.
Likewise, the album closes with its best piece, the appropriately titled “The End of All Things”. Urie crafts a heartfelt lament about love (what else?) as sorrowful piano chords and subtle strings accompany his every regret. Its simplicity and heavenly construction allow it to soar far beyond everything else here; in fact, it’s one of the most beautifully devastating songs the band has ever created.
Unfortunately, the tracks in between have far less appeal. Lead single “Miss Jackson (Feat. Lolo)” is too unfocused and schizophrenic to have a rewarding moment. Like a lot of this record, it’s merely annoying. The other tracks, meanwhile — especially “Vegas Lights”, “Nicotine”, “Girls/Girls/Boys”, and “Casual Affair” — feel too intrusive and bombastic; there’s no room to breathe, and so there’s no room to develop any worthwhile melodies or pleasing arrangements. The vast majority of warmth, emotion, catchiness, and intrigue of previous endeavors is nowhere to be found. Instead, it feels like you’re listening to run-of-the-mill club music with better singing.
Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is cold and computerized, celebrating an aesthetic that proudly values overbearing, repetitious style over creative substance and varied timbres. There’s no doubt that Urie’s themes are as universal and poignant as ever, but the way he and the rest of the group delivers them is misguided at best. The shallowness of Las Vegas culture is undeniable, but the music used to express it shouldn’t be. Panic! At The Disco is now only a shadow of its former self, and while artists should always be as ambitious and adventurous as possible, sometimes it just doesn’t work. In the end, this one is giant step back from Vices & Virtues, and it pales in comparison to the genius of Pretty. Odd.. Hopefully, their next effort will suffice.