Finder’s Keepers, Loser’s Weepers: Panic! at the Disco and Central Identity

Hey friends! Before I get into this week’s blog post, I just want you all to know that I’m doing freelance work again. I have more details on my review system in this post, but I’m also available for journalism and PR/Social Media writing work. For more information, please email me at ashleywhizbang@gmail.com.

Onto today’s topic…

If you’ve known me for about 30 minutes, you probably know that I’m still into pop-punk bands that rose to prominence back in the mid-2000s. Short hand? I’m forever emo trash, especially when it comes to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. However, there’s one band in the holy emo trinity that I’ve had a complicated relationship with: the Vegas based outfit of Panic! at the Disco.

Brendon Urie: A Summary [Facebook]

Brendon Urie: A Summary [Facebook]

If you go over the quick and dirty history of Panic! at the Disco, they seem like a band that should have never lasted past two albums, let alone ten years. Basically, the band was signed to Pete Wentz’s Decaydance records based on demos that their primary songwriter Ryan Ross sent Wentz on Myspace. Their first album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out came out in 2005 and their first single ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ blew up in 2006. The band fired their original bass player Brent Wilson and hired Jon Walker as they began to tour arenas.

They then went into the woods, smoked a lot of pot, dropped the exclamation point from their name and released an album titled Pretty. Odd. That album is pretty much what I imagine The Shitty Beatles from Wayne’s World to sound like.

A year later, Ross and Walker left the band and formed their own retro-rock band called The Young Veins. That band got together, released an album, toured, and broke up before Panic! ever released Vices and Virtues in 2011. Oh, and they put the exclamation point back in their name and were accused of killing Steampunk because of ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’ video.

Yep... Really killing Steampunk dead there, Brendon. [Geekrevolt.com]

Yep… Really killing Steampunk dead there, Brendon. [Geekrevolt.com]

Then drummer Spencer Smith went into rehab for his addiction to painkillers right before 2013’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! released, leaving most of the promotional materials on Brendon as they were going on tour with Fall Out Boy that summer. Also, I got into fights with numerous fans accusing Butch Walker of being an insidious producer just because a couple of songs from both Too Weird and Save Rock and Roll sounded kind of similar, not remembering that this was originally a band full of Fall Out Boy fanboys.

Then Spencer Smith left the band earlier this year, which brings us to now with Brendon Urie being the last man standing, effectively making Panic! at the Disco a solo project. The latest album Death of a Bachelor releases in January with the single ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ dropping earlier this week. Not to be outdone with their original first single become a big star in the John Cena meme, Urie essentially released his inner Finn Bálor by making the sequel video to ‘This Is Gospel’ having him turn into a literal demon.

With this year being the tenth anniversary of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and Death of a Bachelor releasing in January, I’ve had to go back and think about my weird relationship with Panic! at the Disco. I’ve been a fan of them for about a decade, but I haven’t been in any particular rush to name them a favorite band since I was 16. I even stopped following them for a year while they were touring with Pretty. Odd., thought that Fever didn’t really age well, and was lukewarm at best about Too Weird. Even then, I was still playing ‘Miss Jackson,’ ‘This is Gospel,’ and ‘Vegas Lights’ on loop and I’ve already pre-ordered the new album. Why do I like this band and simultaneously not at the same time?

Then I realized something: it’s because Panic! never gained a central identity to their music.

I talked about this some on my Tumblr blog, but it feels like that where most bands experiment around in their first couple of albums or after a big change, Panic! just kept experimenting and never settled on an actual consistent tone for themselves. You can tell a Panic! at the Disco song by its album, but it’s really hard to pick one song that summarizes what the band actually is. For the comics fans out there, imagine it like Emily Aster from Phonogram kept cleaving her personality every time a big event in her life happened, never settling on one patron for too long and having more than just Claire looking back at her in the mirror. That’s Panic! at the Disco.

Except with demons. [Facebook]

Except with demons. [Facebook]

There’s something exciting about that level of commitment to non-commitment, especially in the face of that much loss and change. That’s probably what keeps me coming back to Panic! at the Disco after the nostalgia goggles wear off. However, it’s also the lack of consistency that has made it hard for me to settle on how I personally view them. As Brendon has settled into being more of a songwriter though, it feels like that central identity could finally be settling in. It’s weird to explain, but there is a consistency across songs like ‘This Is Gospel,’ ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ besides religious themes. Plus, there’s been something so delightfully Queen about the songs from Death of a Bachelor so far. I can’t be mad about Queen.

I’ll be reviewing Death of a Bachelor when it comes out, but for now, I remain cautiously optimistic about the evolution and settling of Panic! at the Disco.

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