This is what you wanted, right? A “return to form” – i.e. slick pop layered over synths, the occasional crunchy guitar and a weird fascination with Vaudeville (despite none of us knowing what that really means) – yep, this is you getting what you wanted. And although getting what we wanted can sometimes lead to felonies or regrettable Zune tattoos (R.I.P.), in this case what we wanted is what’s best for us and both remaining members of Panic!(!) At The Disco. With Vices & Virtues, Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith have created an album that isn’t mature, because what does that even mean, but an album that understands from its first note where it’s going and the best way to get there.
Vices & Virtues does rush by, not quite at the breakneck speed of its true predecessor A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, yet its in-big chorus-out styling will feel familiar in the best of ways. But just because this doesn’t have the, ugh, depth of Pretty. Odd. (which, by the way, I find to be an utterly terrible record) doesn’t mean you should feel like some dunce for indulging your dancefloor desires on toe-tappers like “Let’s Kill Tonight” or single “The Ballad of Mona Lisa.” While Urie was quoted as saying that this is some sort of humanity character study (Ha!), it’s perfectly acceptable to take this music at overly make-up’d face value. Sorry to say this, Mr. Urie, but no amount of French lyricism or strings or overt literature-based metaphors (“Memories”) will trick us into seeing this as anything more than a joyride record. Which, like I said, is fine. As far as I’m concerned, the smart dude left the band. And that’s also cool, because for all the Young Veins’ hopes to shadow their past with mid-tempo Beatles masturbation, the true heart of everyone connected to this band will always be fast and catchy lilts on love and loss.
But being that intelligence, at least musically, is relative, perhaps Urie is the genius. Although I willingly champion the quick and simple, Vices & Virtues throws songs like “Trade Mistakes” and “Sarah Smiles” at us, which retain both the theatrics of Fever and the restraint of Pretty. Odd. So who’s to say this guy isn’t some master innovator, mixing and matching old stuff to make things we’ve never heard. It creates an end product that feels both nostalgic and creative. Take “Ready To Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)”, which has Razia’s Shadow drama, 80’s flair and U2 bombast. Or maybe it has none of those things; point is, I hear it and think, “Man that’s cool,” which usually would be enough for a dimwitted music fan. But the amazing thing is, then I want to dive in again and again. It’s big and over the top and indulgent and just freaking great. And maybe that’s the best way to describe Vices & Virtues.
When Urie sings, “Put another X on the calendar / Summer’s on it’s deathbed / There is simply nothing worse than knowing how it ends,” on possible standout “The Calendar,” he could be referring to a million different things. But if he’s referring to his new career at the forefront of Panic! At The Disco, he’s got nothing to worry about. Because the only thing I want to do at the end of Vices & Virtues is hear it all over again.