Panic! At The Disco return with their greatly anticipated 5th studio album, Death Of A Bachelor. This is an interesting album for the band, with Brendon Urie being the only official band member. Of course, fans may have already heard over half the album, as the band released 6 tracks prior to release, ranging back as far as April 2015. The tracks released so far were definitely cause for excitement ahead of the album, interesting musically and lyrically, presenting a variety of ideas and directions the album could go in. Upon listening to the album, there is some weight to the claim that the best songs could have already been released, but there is a lot going on throughout the diverse album.
The most noticeable thing about the tracks on the album, is how catchy they are. Very few tracks fail to remain in your head for hours after first listen; and this is due largely to the expert use of instrumentation, textures, and vocals. A great example of this is Hallelujah, the verse is comprised of just drums, bass, and maybe a synth for padding behind the vocals, creating a sparse texture. The rhythms of the vocals are interesting here, and the delivery is almost rapped rather than sung as each syllable gets one note. This is harshly contrasted by the chorus which erupts into life with guitars, a brass section, and a backing gospel choir which all create a very dense and full texture. Over which is Brendon‘s soaring melismatic vocal melodies, which only become more extravagant as the song progresses. This contrast makes these dramatic chorus sections stand out even more, and really engages the listener. The other factor that makes these songs instantly catchy, is their dynamic range, or the lack of one.
Although the textures may alter dramatically between sections, the sparse textures are never actually quieter than the dense, ‘loud’ sections. The album has been incredibly heavily compressed, and to the point that it’s highly audible and distracting. Heavy compression is a common feature for ‘radio friendly’ albums, as it helps songs to standout (something very necessary when it only has 3 minutes to capture an audience). What it means for an album though, is that the listener’s ears become tired very quickly, and indeed, this album is difficult to fully listen through in one sitting. Some tracks on the album are suited to this production: Victorious, Emperor’s New Clothes and LA Devotee are naturally have a small dynamic range, making them obvious single choices. However; Hallelujah, Death Of A Bachelor and Golden Days all greatly suffer from this feature. The genre and style of Death Of A Bachelor is very creative, combining Jazz elements with electronic music; however, the presence of the bass in the verse is overbearing, and distracts from the good aspects of the song. Golden Days is probably the biggest sufferer from the production though, there is an element of the bass/kick being too loud again in the verse, but the main issue stems from the difference in texture. The sparse texture is very loud, and the huge contrast between the pre-chorus (great section) and the chorus means that there are suddenly so many more instruments to fit into the same small space. The result is over-compression: the cymbals and distorted guitars are clipping throughout the chorus; the whole space sounds squashed and the vocals are difficult to hear. It’s a shame as the music in this song is actually pretty good, and this is common on the album.
Listening more intently, through the wall of loudness and clipping, there are a lot of really creative and interesting ideas at work throughout. For example, in the opening track, Victorious, there is a section where vocals are in canon with the guitar, melodically and rhythmically. The line “Punch drunk kiss I know you need it, do you feel it drink of water drink of wine” to lead into the chorus is fantastic, it grabs attention and is an excellent variation of the verse melody. A look deeper uncovers that the rhythm and melody of the first part of that line “Punch drunk kiss I know you need” is the same as the guitar line preceding it. The second half of that line repeats the pattern again. It’s really clever instrumental writing that happens a lot in music, for example across 2 guitars, but it’s rarely on vocals. In this case it has such a strong effect, and really helps this section stand out, and makes the transition into the chorus really distinctive. A Similar thing happens again in Emperor’s New Clothes: “and if you don’t know, now you know” has the same melody as the bass line before it. In this case it’s imitation because it’s not exactly the same (different octave), and it comes straight after the bass line; but it once again has a strong effect on the transition section, and makes it much more memorable. There are various other aspects of the album that have a similar level of impressiveness including the use of falsetto during the chorus of Death Of A Bachelor, it’s a shame however that these are difficult to uncover through the production.
Overall, Death Of A Bachelor is an ok album, the musical styles are creative, placing an electronic twist on rock, jazz and swing to put Panic!‘s own unique spin on the songs. There are also some great features and techniques used in these tracks, the manipulation of subject matter for imitation and canon is clever; the songs also display Urie‘s impressive vocal range and abilities. Unfortunately though, there are a number of ‘filler’ tracks on the album, and the mix, and master of the tracks really lets them down. There is such an emphasis placed on ensuring the songs are instantly catchy, and well suited to plays on the radio, that it is to the detriment of the songs and the album as a whole.
Standout tracks: Victorious/ Death Of A Bachelor/ The Good, The Bad and The Dirty