Nevada rockers Panic! at the Disco (exclamation mark still intact) are nothing if not skilled at the art of reinvention. So it stands to reason that their new album “Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die” would offer yet another transformation.
Indeed, one of the few immediately apparent similarities between this record and the past three is Brendon Urie’s spot-on vocal performance. Theatrical and intoxicating as ever, the only drawback is a heavy-handed use of effects on his voice; they start off intriguing, but by the end of the album it’s as though the sound technician was just flipping switches at random.
Listening to “Too Weird” all the way through in one sitting makes it a little difficult to distinguish between tracks. There are lines here which every band popular back in 2007 has already sung, which their fans have already copied onto the backs of their notebooks in Sharpie during middle school biology, but there’s inspiration lurking in the midst. It’s the kind of album that could birth several radio-friendly singles. The problem is the lack of an overarching story; there’s nothing to pull us in.
“Nicotine” is perhaps the album’s highest high. It’s ominous, it’s layered, it’s foot-tapping. It’s also the first time Panic! has ever used a curse word in their lyrics, more proof that they’re finally feeling like grown-ups. Another excellent moment is “Collar Full,” which deserves to be on the soundtrack if “The Breakfast Club” is ever remade.
But this is not an alternative rock album — it’s a masterfully built pop album which harkens back to a time of synthesizers and dance beats. As has become the trend with emo bands that survived more than three years, Panic! seems to have taken this opportunity to hit puberty. Where once their songs were carefully crafted worlds of fiction, the three men in this lineup finally have something real to say. Forsaking sentence-long song titles, Urie becomes a commanding presence over churning drums and “eh eh” backing vocals. The crafty lyrics have given way to more genuine emotion, as in “Girls/Girls/Boys,” which features both vulnerability (“never did I think that I / would be caught in the way you caught me”) and a progressive attitude (“girls love girls and boys / and love is not a choice”).
This album is a new sound for an aging band: 1980s influences, more impactful lyrics, no more awkward circus piano. They’ve made progress, but they haven’t shaken the earth. They haven’t shown their truest colors, just another facet. Still, this record is arguably the strongest Panic! has ever produced. It is fervent. “Too Weird” may not be a spectacle of musical innovation, but it is certainly worth a listen or five.