In his newest album, “Viva Las Vengeance,” Brendon Urie — currently the sole member of the punk-pop band Panic! at the Disco — falls short of the brilliance that typified his earlier releases. Despite several standout tracks, the album is underwhelming. Overall, most of the bright spots appear at points where he leans heavily on the work of other musicians.
“Viva Las Vengeance” is a collection of songs that do not shy away from outside influence; almost half the songs on the album invoke sounds found on other musical releases.
One of those songs, “Middle of a Breakup,” pulls its opening from “Hallelujah,” an old Panic! at the Disco song that is still considered one of the band’s best tracks. It has an instantly recognizable introduction that Urie revamps to begin the new track. Unfortunately, the opening is where the song’s excellence starts and ends. The chorus is underwhelming — a trait many of these songs share — and the vocals feel slightly pitchy and forced. For an artist who has made his living off his powerful, crystal-clear voice, it’s a decision that leaves the listener wondering if “Middle of a Breakup” was a production failure or simply a sign that Urie’s talent is starting to wane with age.
The album’s title track, “Viva Las Vengeance,” shares the same qualities that make “Middle of a Breakup” something of a letdown. The chorus is similarly underwhelming in this album opener, and the song overall is disappointing — especially because Urie and Panic! have proven that they can create significantly better music.
Fortunately, the album turns around a bit after that rocky start. The third song, “Don’t Let The Light Go Out,” is a departure from the classic Panic! style, but it still manages to hold its own. It has just a touch of country twang, making the song distinct without overpowering the quintessential Urie that all Panic! at the Disco songs have. It still isn’t super noteworthy, but it was a clear step in the right direction for “Viva Las Vengeance” and allows the album to settle in a desperately needed way.
As with almost every Panic! at the Disco album, there are standout tracks on “Viva Las Vengeance.” One is “God Killed Rock and Roll,” a song that pulls so obviously from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that it evokes a powerful sense of nostalgia upon first listen. Urie isn’t afraid to lean into the same sound that made “Bohemian Rhapsody” so instantly iconic, and the song is better for it. It effortlessly bounces between stirring piano and bouncy alt-pop with a touch of jazz, and Panic! manages to keep it fun and fresh. On top of all these strengths, Urie still makes “God Killed Rock and Roll” classically Brandon Urie with the slightly off-kilter lyrics and that distinct vocal quality that sets him apart. In short, “God Killed Rock and Roll” stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album, and it deserves to end up on an official Spotify playlist or two.
Another solid song on “Viva Las Vengeance” is “Sad Clown,” which comes on the album’s back half. It is objectively a peculiar song — but so are a lot of Panic! at the Disco songs, and “Sad Clown” elevates itself above a primarily lackluster bunch by being a little more old-school Urie. The song gives him room to belt, and his vocals sound much healthier than in some of the earlier songs. There is even a charming violin piece to close the song, which contrasts significantly with the rest of the track but still ties everything together nicely. On another Panic! album, “Sad Clown” would probably sit in the middle of the pack, but because “Viva Las Vengeance” is mediocre to begin with, “Sad Clown” gets some time to shine.
“Say It Louder” benefits from the same thing. Much like “Sad Clown,” it feels more like some of Panic! at the Disco’s older songs, which is rarely a bad quality to have. Truthfully, the lyrics are noticeably repetitive, but unlike “Local God” — a song on the album that sits solidly in the “mediocre” tier — that repetition is not so pronounced as it is irritating. It has that sort of vintage Urie feel that instantly elevates any of his songs. The Panic! at the Disco albums following “Death of a Bachelor” have not had the same spark as their earlier productions, so any return to those often left-behind qualities is a good thing.
Finally, no review of “Viva Las Vengeance” is complete without covering “Do It To Death,” the last song on the album. Its opening sounds like Journey’s classic song “Separate Ways,” albeit with a twist that makes that comparison somewhat challenging to identify. Like most of the other songs on the album, it is nothing more than solid. Most of its significance stems from the outro being the first snippet of the album released by Urie, thus making the song one of the most anticipated. While “Do It To Death” certainly isn’t relatable, it does its job just fine, and it certainly helped build anticipation for an album that doesn’t seem to have a ton of traction in the music sphere.
Overall, “Viva Las Vengeance” is one of Panic! at the Disco’s weaker albums. It lacks the attention-catching punk elements that catapulted the band to success at their inception, and it isn’t quite mainstream enough to sit alongside Urie’s most recently produced music. It hovers in an odd sort of in-between. It isn’t a bad album, but it isn’t good. It isn’t a classic Panic! at the Disco production, but it still has very classically Panic! at the Disco elements. As it stands, “Viva Las Vengeance” is an album that feels more propped up by Urie’s legacy than a work that can stand alone and thus falls short of the excellence that used to be a staple of Panic! at the Disco productions.