Hmm… I feel I should begin by explaining that, though well familiar with the Las Vegas band Panic! at the Disco, I’ve never heard any of their previous albums. But isn’t this virginal approach to criticism preferable, since I won’t be constantly comparing these songs to their older work?
That said, I suppose I’m a fairly loose “virgin” because I am acquainted with their previous singles, and I’m aware of their stylistic approach of reinventing themselves from album to album, which is certainly a commendable thing to do. So let’s just say that I’ve fooled around with them under the bleachers, but have never gone to their house with a stolen bottle of schnapps while their parents were out of town. Does that work?
Okay, here goes. Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! sounds like an album with an identity crisis. No, that criticism trope isn’t quite right: it sounds like a fairly well thought-out, moody, synth-pop record with two overly ambitious top 40 singles tacked on. Fortunately, those two singles are tacked on at the beginning, which makes for a nice separation from the rest of the album.
I envision the Panic! guys writing a batch of well crafted songs, staying true to their vision of recreating themselves from album to album, only to be handed that old, ugly refrain: “There aren’t any singles here.” So, back to the basement to appease the record execs. Of these two singles, “This Is Gospel” would be my preference, with its playful vocoder thingy applied to its catchy verses, but it loses me a little when the choruses kick in. But hey, I can certainly imagine hordes of youth passionately pumping their fists to it, and I promise you there’s no air of judgment in that image.
But if I were their record exec — and believe you me, no one in this industry should hire me as their record exec — I would have chosen “Vegas Lights” as the lead single. This isn’t to say it’s my favorite track on the album, far from it, but I do think it’s decent, and more importantly it’s the catchiest track that still resembles this new direction they’ve taken. And how convenient, it’s the third track in the sequence, so it very well could have been a nice start to the record, had the two actual singles never seen the light of day! (I should remind the reader that my hunches about these singles being written after the fact are nothing more than playful speculation.)
But it’s after “Vegas Lights” when things really get interesting, ultimately forming a buoyant and brooding collection of songs. Highlights are “Girl That You Love,” my favorite song on the album with its shades of my (former) labelmates and buds, the Faint. “Girls/Girls/Boys” would be my honest pick for lead single, one that I imagine they considered pushing (and hopefully still will).
Actually, the entire second half of the album, from “Girls/Girls/Boys” on to “The End of All Things,” is a nice batch of music that I hope Panic! at the Disco’s legions of fans will appreciate. And I imagine their true fans will appreciate it, those die-hards who don’t need a radio single to validate the band’s success, who never asked for one to begin with.