Double Take: Pray For The Wicked by Panic! At The Disco Album Review
It's finally here! Panic! At The Disco’s latest album Pray for the Wicked has graced our ears, and we’ve had the chance to digest it in full. So, without further ado, here’s what will be the first of many Rhapsody In Reverie Double Take reviews!
Take 1: Katarina
Brendon Urie has a way of slapping you across the face with his music. It’s not a threatening or violent slap, but one that makes you wake up and take stock in what you’re listening to. Are you awake? Are you paying attention? He has something to say, and you need to hear it.
Pray For The Wicked is a unique piece in that it’s a call to arms for the dreamers and those wondering if they should really drop everything and go for gold so to speak, while also occupying the unique spot of being rather reminiscent of the journey itself. There is always something noble and glorious to be found in looking back at one’s struggle to climb the mountain of success. Though often, the happy memories have a tinge of bitter sweetness. Urie doesn’t hold back in showcasing the highs and lows of it all, and gives us a rare glimpse into the mind of somebody dealing with what it’s like to reach the top.
Can you imagine a stronger opening number than “(Fuck A) Silver Lining?” Don’t bother. You can’t. It’s never been done. I feel my blood pumping with each beat in that song, and suddenly, I feel more than capable of chasing after my dreams. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Why settle for silver linings? Why settle at all, when it’s in my grasp if I just say, “Screw-all, I’m just gonna go for it?” Maybe it’s the entitled millennial in me, or maybe it’s just the dreamer, but this song speaks to the parts of me that don’t want to settle and that believe earnestly in accomplishing my goals through the hustle of life. It’s in the daily grind that we succeed, after all. The ball just keeps rolling with “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” a Saturday night anthem that is in reality anything but traditional, mostly thanks to Urie’s absolutely soaring vocals, and of course that witty lyricism that is expected with Panic! songs.
But it’s “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” that I feel perfectly captures the mood of the album as a whole. It’s both joyous and frantic, teetering on the brink of a sort of professional sadness that gets hinted at throughout the song. After all, you can’t really call yourself a “hooker selling songs” and your “pimp a record label” without sounding a little tongue-in-cheek. There’s a great thing that happens in this song (in truth most of the songs on this album, but on this one in particular), in which Brendon Urie seamlessly blends relishing his victory with the pain and doubt that came along with it, topped off with a catchy hook and some great beats.
Then there’s “High Hopes,” another song about having the will and perseverance enough to keep hoping that you’ll make it. It’s bittersweet in its own way, as any look back on how one began their journey upward inevitably is. It carries on in the same vein as “Hey Look Ma I Made It,” but escalates the mood to a more raucous, Dionysian celebration of life. I believe, as well, that the title is a tip to the Frank Sinatra song of the same name but that’s neither here nor there. Someone with more technological talent than I should do a mashup. Get on that.
I wish I could just go through all of the songs one by one, analyzing their plays on the double-edged sword that is success, but alas I cannot. This review would easily be fifteen pages long and nobody wants to sit through that. But I will say, quite honestly, that this latest album has to be one of the most creatively honest and introspective works that Panic! At The Disco has ever created. Reflection is a central theme found in this album, the kind of reflection that comes with age and experience - a maturity. It’s clear evidence of growth in both style and tone, and while the telltale Brendon Urie flair is ever present, it’s grown as well. It’s wonderful. It’s brimming with life.
Pray for the Wicked is a beautifully refreshing, honest look at success in a time where people are encouraged to settle for less before they’ve even begun. It’s a voice from somebody who had to work with all their might to get to that other side, but they did it. It is simultaneously a delicate dance between melancholy and euphoria, and a brash battle cry to the world that says, “I will not let the world make me any less than what I am, and neither should you.” It’s bold, but it also comes from a place of raw sincerity found in the reflection of the journey to success. And perhaps that’s what I loved the most about this album: how truly sincere it is, how full of life, how beautiful the journey is compared with the destination. I felt honored to listen to it.
Take 2: Adrienne
To say that Brendon Urie has had a whirlwind of a year would be an understatement. From Grammy nominations and Tony Awards, he's reached a point in his career that I don't think the teenage Urie that started making music with his best friends could have truly imagined. Transitioning into a new album cycle after all the success of Death of a Bachelor must have been a challenge; and for a lot of people, this transition could have been paralyzing. However, Brendon Urie did something that I think is admirable on Pray For The Wicked. Instead of running away from that question, he leaned into it. The result is 11 songs that are euphoric, melancholic and filled with beauty and fear.
Each one of these songs offers a new perspective on the question of who are you now. From the very start, you have “(Fuck A) Silver Lining” which fills you with so much determination and fierce optimism. Then it's followed up with the song “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” which shows the darker underbelly of that optimism and drive. Both of those songs segway into “Hey Look Ma I Made It” which marries the two ideas presented earlier into one complicated view from the top.
“Hey Look Ma I Made It” will always be my favorite for its ability to make me want to dance and cry at the same time. Adding in the fact that Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit is a co-writer on that song makes me want to weep for the rest of my life. It's such a beautiful collaboration of artists who have weathered so many triumphs and hardships in their professional lives as musicians. Not to mention, it's a song filled with damn good musical vibes. The breakdown at the end makes me wanna groove harder than I've ever grooved before.
Musically, Urie mixes together so many influences in a way that still cohesively aligns with his uniquely expressive musical style. “Dancing’s Not a Crime” sounds like a futuristic Jackson 5 song while “Roaring Twenties” sounds like a bombastic reinvention of big band music. “King of the Clouds” sounds like a mix between 90s boy bands, Aaliyah, and a cabaret number and then the record ends with “Dying in LA,” a beautiful number that sounds like it belongs on a stage on Broadway.
“Dying in LA” summarizes the entire ride of Pray For The Wicked perfectly in a Broadway-worthy reprise. In the lines, we see the story of a man both broken and reborn by the time he served in the land of glamour and fame. Much like the whole album, “Dying In LA” represents a beautiful rise and fall and rise again, making Pray For The Wicked feel like both an intimate confessional and perfectly crafted concept album.
Urie teaches us all on this album things about himself that we had never learned before. That new level of vulnerability is impressive for an artist like Urie who already seemed to pour so much of himself into the work he does. The idea that he could give us even more of who he is felt impossible to me and yet here we are. Something Katarina said to me after listening to the album rings true throughout this whole album; it feels like the most Brendon album he's ever done.
I feel so lucky that Urie was vulnerable enough to make a record like Pray For The Wicked. After reaching such a height over the last few years as an early 2000’s emo frontman, he took this time to look down below and question the view at the top earnestly. if I've learned anything from Pray For The Wicked it's that you have to embrace the fear and the thrill of success. It’s okay to rise, it’s okay to stumble, it’s okay to fall. It's okay because it's living.