All Time Low – Last Young Renegade, 2017 (Album Review)

All Time Low is regarded as one of the most  monumental pop rock/pop punk bands of the 21st century, beginning their music career in 2003 and consistently releasing records since then. Through label changes and stylistic shifts, the four-piece from Baltimore has managed to make quite the name for themselves and garner a large, devoted fanbase over the years. However, 2017’s polarizing Last Young Renegade seemed off-putting for many of their longtime listeners. So how does it really shape up? Let’s (finally) dive into the latest long-player from All Time Low.

If you’ve been keeping up with my album reviews, you know that I take quite a while to get around to covering some releases, like 5 Seconds of Summer’s Sounds Good, Feels Good or Panic! at the Disco’s Death of a Bachelor. I allow myself plenty of time to form a coherent, grounded opinion on these albums because that’s what the art deserves. And I’m really glad I waited to review Last Young Renegade.

I’ll be honest, I did NOT like this album when it came out. I considered it their weakest project to date and only appreciated about two songs. I can now firmly say that I’ve genuinely come around and gained a new perspective on this LP, and I’m finally ready to share my full opinion. (Fun drinking game: take a shot every time I say “synth.”)

Last Young Renegade is All Time Low’s seventh studio album and first release after signing to Fueled By Ramen in 2016 (2015?), which spelled trouble for many fans. Fueled By Ramen has established a reputation in recent years for polishing up their rock outfits in favor of a sleek radio-friendly pop sound. It also seemed strange for All Time Low to depart Hopeless Records which they called home for the majority of their career. (They even included Hopeless in their song lyrics. See: “So Long, Soldier” from 2012’s Don’t Panic.) However, Fueled By Ramen was probably the most predictable place for the four-piece to sign with considering the label’s roster and association with other mainstream pop rock acts, like Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is…, Cobra Starship, Twenty One Pilots, and Yellowcard, just to name a few. The band claims that they felt more free to be themselves and explore new territories with Fueled By Ramen, that the label wasn’t holding them back or forcing them to sound a certain way. That’s disputable… But we’ll get more into that later.

So once the band dropped “Dirty Laundry” as the lead single for their upcoming record Last Young Renegade, it proved to be one of the most divisive tracks in their discography. Many fans began blaming Fueled By Ramen for the stylistic change and comparing the label shift to when All Time Low signed with Interscope to release Dirty Work, which is generally regarded as the “worst” album in their catalog. I personally didn’t enjoy “Dirty Laundry” at first, besides the rock-infused final chorus, because it felt like such a stark departure from their previous album.

Over a year later, I can say I feel differently. 2015’s Future Hearts put All Time Low at a crossroads: stick with this amazingly well-balanced brand of pop rock or move in a new direction. I love Future Hearts; it’s one of my favorite albums from the group and I think the sound worked extremely well for them. They captured both rock fans and pop fans while still maintaining their edginess, fun, and personality, crafting a record that is undeniably catchy, entertaining, and worth countless replays. But I knew they couldn’t stick with the same tone forever, and change makes most of us apprehensive. When any artist mixes up their trademark approach, it’s typically unwelcome at first. But we can’t expect a band that’s been around for so long to keep making the same record over and over, especially with how much the members have grown and matured over the years. People change and their art changes with them.

At first, Last Young Renegade seemed like a change for the worse — the band was devolving, taking steps backwards, heading in the wrong direction. Nine months later, I can say that Last Young Renegade is a natural progression for All Time Low, and a good one at that. This record is what The Summer Set’s Stories For Monday would have sounded like if it were darker, less optimistic, and less focused on the impending indefinite hiatus of the band. While Last Young Renegade is overall a solid project, it still has its flaws. Frontman Alex Gaskarth (picture is of guitarist Jack Barakat) routinely touted the record as a “concept album,” which, I mean, I guess…? To an extent? He claims the character on the album artwork is utilized as a way to bundle all the ideas together, but I don’t really think there’s a cohesive storyline throughout the tracks.

However, there is certainly thematic and stylistic cohesion. Last Young Renegade revolves around tales of heartbreak, nostalgia, and emotional struggles while still offering a hopeful outlook on the road ahead, and these notions are buoyed along all throughout the LP. However, I think the tracklisting could have been a bit more thought-out; “Good Times” probably should have been pushed down on the program in order to really pack that teary-eyed, bittersweet punch. It felt fairly jarring to go from a string of songs about heartache and loss to a rosy reflection on youthful triumphs and memories. Nonetheless, Last Young Renegade as a whole is equally drenched in euphoric nostalgia and emotional turmoil so there are definitely some major motifs to tie everything together. The pop rock timbre is complemented by experimental synths and atmosphere, although the production does have its fair share of pitfalls, like feeling too sterile and over-polished at times. To really examine this more in-depth, let’s jump into the full-length track-by-track.

The album opens up with the title track “Last Young Renegade.” Accomplished by sentimental reminiscence and Gaskarth’s descriptive songwriting, this tune sets up the elemental vibe for the album: glistening pop rock dazzled with synthetic melodies and moody ambience. “Last Young Renegade” is evidence of that natural progression from Future Hearts by combining smooth pop ingredients with a rock-leaning vantage. This track is probably the strongest and most enjoyable on the record, rightfully deserving of repeated listens and chanted choruses.

The second track “Drugs & Candy” offers a darker side to the new style by exploring the struggles of toxic relationships and introducing a more sinister instrumental sound. You can pick up on the slightest inflection of an acoustic guitar buried in the mix if you listen closely enough, but it quickly fades during the explosive chorus in favor of underlying electronic components and distorted guitars. However, the guitars (all throughout this record!) seem insatiably washed-out and overly pristine. It’s a bit too muted coming from the pop punk All Time Low we know and love, but again, this is showcasing the band moving in a new direction. As long as I tune out how the four-piece used to sound and go into Last Young Renegade with a clear and open mind, it’s really not that harrowing. I know what the band is capable of but I have to remind myself that they can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. That being said, “Drugs & Candy” is actually quite likable! It’s adequately catchy, and Alex’s vocals get a bit more coarse in the denouement of the piece. It’s nothing groundbreaking but still serviceable enough.

Next on the bill is “Dirty Laundry,” decisively the most controversial track of Last Young Renegade. This song has a slow build, creating a foreboding and mysterious atmosphere achieved by reverb-heavy, laundered guitars, mellow percussion, and glossy vocal effects. The instrumentation seems somewhat artificial and ersatz, and the guitars again feel painfully subdue. The bridge section kicks in, reining in a more biting guitar timbre and eventually combusting into the closing chorus which displays All Time Low recrudescing to their signature pop rock intonation. “Dirty Laundry” overall is a steady, brooding experience, but is the payoff truly worth the wait? Most fans probably would have rather had the entire song sound like the final refrain and done away with the more hazy, simulated build-up. For me personally, I don’t mind the song; the lyrics are decent and the melody isn’t too bad. It’s certainly not my favorite by any means but I still appreciate it and what the band was aiming to do.

“Good Times” is the next article on the album, outlined by computerized synth melodies and pulsing cadences in order to craft a nostalgic attitude to complement the retrospective libretto. Similar to “Drugs & Candy,” a faint acoustic guitar is pushed to the back of the mix, only receiving its time to shine for a split second in each chorus. The amplified guitar melodies are achingly simplistic as the song depends more ardently on the vocal and synthetic diapasons to lead the tune. The lyricism is defined by pictorial imagery and poignant recollection of youthful jubilation, tugging at the heartstrings of the listener. “Good Times” doesn’t exactly affect me on any deeper level, but I acknowledge that it’s an enjoyable track nonetheless. I think it could have been lowered on the tracklisting to effectively deliver its touching demeanor considering it is preceded by multiple songs detailing relationship struggles, giving the listener whiplash moving from those darker tones to a more upbeat one. The band released an “orchestral arrangement” of the tune which really isn’t anything exciting. They changed the lyrics from “middle fingers up” to “turn the music up,” which seems rather strange for All Time Low. They’ve said f**k in their songs before, and the CD booklet for Nothing Personal featured a photo of them with their middle fingers up. I’m not sure if they were trying to tone down the angst to fit the more stripped-down version (which is fairly uncharacteristic of them) or if Fueled By Ramen possibly told them to do so. However, the “orchestral arrangement” isn’t officially part of Last Young Renegade, so we won’t worry about it too much.

Next up is “Nice2KnoU,” which, despite its cringey stylized title, is a pretty great track. It’s more continuation of that natural progression sonically, and the lyrics seem to touch upon this as well, proclaiming, “We can’t go back to yesterday.” This line, of course, is up for interpretation, but in the context of All Time Low’s musical career, this may be evidence of them waving goodbye to their previous fashions. “Nice2KnoU” is construed by raucous guitars and urgent drumming, bringing back that edginess the band seemingly left behind on Future Hearts. I don’t have too many complaints about this track, though the “oh-oh” chanting in the background can grow a bit grating over time.

“Life of the Party” is next on the list, characterized by synthetic refrains and vehement walls of sound while Gaskarth discusses the hardships of losing yourself in tides of fame and the party scene. (No pun intended.) The bombastic chorus is bound to get stuck in your head, and the vocal effects layered on Gaskarth’s voice are more stylistic, not correctional. “Life of the Party” efficiently captures what the band set out to accomplish on Last Young Renegade: animated pop rock tracks that meld the best parts of electro-pop and rock along with catchy melodies and introspective lyricism. It’s anthemic and well-rounded, and while I still think the guitars could be more pronounced, I don’t detect many negative things to extract from “Life of the Party.”

The eighth number titled “Nightmares” is admittedly one of the more mediocre tunes on the record. It opens with a plucky guitar aria and lyrics painting familial issues and internal struggles, and it ultimately reminds me of “Broken Home” by 5 Seconds of Summer. Gaskarth has co-written countless songs for the boys from Australia and the similarities in their work are undeniable. “Broken Home” is easily one of 5 Seconds of Summer’s most well-written pieces, so it’s not necessarily bad to draw influences from it. However, “Broken Home” is a very emotional, personal track and “Nightmares” can feel a bit boring or disingenuous. It’s definitely one of the more toned-down songs on Last Young Renegade, but it’s still executed fairly decently. The vocal melody of the chorus is heartfelt and captivating, and the instrumentation hauntingly consummates the mood. The synths that kick in during the chorus are favorable enough, nothing too offensive or gratifying, but that’s basically how the entire song feels. “Nightmares” isn’t bad, it isn’t revolutionary, it’s just there. It’s enjoyable enough and I don’t have anything against it; it’s simply a filler track to me. And while I’m sure there is sincere emotion behind the writing, it just doesn’t move me one way or the other.

In contrast to that, “Dark Side of Your Room” accelerates the energy once again with pounding percussion and vociferous guitar strumming. The lively chorus is unbelievably anthemic and rhapsodic — you’re destined to be chanting along by the second strain. The pulsing beats and vocal harmonies are enough to keep you hooked all throughout the tune, and the lyrics detailing longing for a doomed relationship are candid and plausible. “Dark Side of Your Room” is another addition to the natural progression presented on Last Young Renegade; it feels like what you would expect All Time Low to instinctively devise after Future Hearts. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album and I think it deserves some more attention.

Track nine introduces the sole feature on the album: Tegan and Sara on “Ground Control.” This celestial track is speckled with shimmering synths and atmospheric ambience to accompany the astronomic imagery conveyed in the lyrics. It’s a hopeful, optimistic tune, and the vocals contributed from Tegan and Sara really add something to the track. The guitars are almost unnoticeable, minus the occasional accentual measure or two in the background. “Ground Control (ft. Tegan and Sara)” is one of the most pop-centric songs on Last Young Renegade, and it’s not terrible by any means, but it just doesn’t feel like an All Time Low song. But again, to really delve into this record properly, we kinda have to throw out what the band used to sound like.

The standard edition of the album closes with “Afterglow,” a track intended to act as the “resolution” for the “last young renegade” character. The lyrics of youth and midnight adventures are facilitated by the scintillating synths and enthusiastic percussion, and the stripped-back chorus packs a nostalgic, exultant punch before kicking into the blissful artificial melody that truly defines this track. The song ends on a raw, tender tag with lyricism and rhythm that reminds me of Journey’s “Lights.” (“When the lights go down…”) It wraps the entire song altogether in a similar sense: “Afterglow” emulates the sentimental vibes of “Lights,” infatuated with the city nightlife and hopeful to return to those fond memories. It’s just that the production and instrumental apparatus has been updated for the modern zeitgeist of 2017: electronic melodies and sleek guitar work. “Afterglow” is another strong tune on Last Young Renegade and a perfect conclusion to bundle the recurring lyrical and musical themes together.

The deluxe edition of the album, however, includes two bonus tracks: “Chemistry” and “Vampire Shift.” Honestly, these two songs are some of my absolute favorites on the record and it’s a shame they were slated as bonus material. Simultaneously, I understand why they were not appointed as standard tracks; I feel like their vibes don’t exactly fit in with the rest of Last Young Renegade, and I’m at a loss of where I would coherently squeeze them in on the tracklisting. “Chemistry” follows in the established lyrical vein of nostalgia and reliving past experiences, and “Vampire Shift” commits to the obsession of late night merriment. The boisterous chorus on “Vampire Shift” is extremely catchy and entertaining, and I wish both tracks would get some more publicity.

Overall, just like any art, All Time Low’s Last Young Renegade is assuredly subjective. There isn’t a common consensus on the quality of the record considering some fans adore the full-length and others are sorely unimpressed. While it is quite underwhelming subsequently from Future Hearts, it is nonetheless a decent album. It’s All Time Low exploring uncharted domains and pushing the boundaries of what they’re capable of mastering. It’s new, it’s fresh, and yet familiar all at once. I personally enjoy the record and keep it in my general rotation, but I completely understand why others would be inclined to dispose of it without a second thought. The price of experimenting with new styles is risking the alienation of your fanbase. However, I think All Time Low pulls this new sound off surprisingly well, though the album is certainly not one of the most robust compositions in their discography. I’m giving Last Young Renegade a 7.5/10 for its innovation and ambition but also for its slight drawbacks and sporadic disappointments. Like I said, it’s a natural progression for the band, not exceptionally fascinating but still sufficiently entertaining.

Let me know what you think of Last Young Renegade down in the comments below!

  • Strongest songs: “Last Young Renegade,” “Life of the Party,” “Dark Side of Your Room,” “Nice2KnoU,” “Afterglow”
  • Weakest (not “worst”) songs: “Nightmares,” “Dirty Laundry”

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Ed Sheeran – ÷ (Divide), 2017 (Album Review)

Ed Sheeran, the musical dynamo who stands as the mainstream poster child for the singer/songwriter “white guy with an acoustic guitar” genre, has released his third major label full-length album, ÷. Ed is acclaimed for his diversified styles, from upbeat hip-hop to syrupy sweet love ballads to campfire singalongs. His earnest lyricism and authentic intimacy is one of the many reasons to love this amiable redhead.

So what does this latest long-player have to offer?

÷ is a typical Ed Sheeran album, a mixture of those various approaches and then some. But unfortunately, ÷ plays it extremely safe in personality, although he does tiptoe outside of his comfort zone on a few moments. This is his most noticeably commercial record to date, which thus sacrifices risk-taking and is ultimately underwhelming. After 2014’s phenomenal ×, touring the planet, and taking a year off social media, we set the bar high for Ed. We expected something more personal, something introspective and astonishing, but ÷ really does not meet those standards. It’s the same-old-same-old but yet not as stunning and gripping as his earlier material. Of course, ÷ is alright; it’s not a terrible release by any means, but it certainly is disappointing in multiple categories.

First, the lyrics. At times, the libretto of this work can be profound and ardent, but most cuts either display the same tired-out romantic clichés from his prior albums or empty, dull subjects that simply don’t attest to his growth as a person since the last time we heard from him on ×. “Galway Girl” exhibits a night out at the pub, kissing an Irish girl and eating Doritos, and while this is down-to-earth and practical, is this really the height of Ed’s songwriting? Or “New Man” where Ed gives details of a stereotypical gym jock, someone we could easily picture and possibly put a name to of a similar person we know, and while this song is descriptive, is it really anything more than just scratching the surface? Or similarly, “Shape of You,” the most sexually charged yet undoubtedly catchiest song in the lineup. Or on tracks like “Happier” where Ed expresses some maturity by accepting an ex lover has moved on with someone new, but yet he ruins it all by stating at the end of the song he’ll still “be waiting here for [them].” The hackneyed instrumentation also doesn’t cater to his rougher operatic delivery to any considerable degree in order to pack the real emotional punch. “What Do I Know?” is littered in naiveté, and the octave-stacked vocal layering and humming is crudely annoying. We do manage to see some progression and communion on pieces like “Castle on the Hill” which describes Ed’s childhood and struggles of growing up and apart from old friends. The bonus track “Save Myself” is probably the most intimate, reflective tune on the album, which begs the question as to why it was merely tacked on as a bonus track. “Supermarket Flowers” is also one of the most personal and genuine songs where Ed recounts true events that occurred in his life.

EDIT: Ed Sheeran said in an interview with Zane Lowe that the reason why “Save Myself” was not included as an a-side tune was because the album had “too many slow songs.” Thus, the label requested that he swap “New Man” and “Save Myself” in the initial listing, making “New Man” a standard track and “Save Myself” a bonus track. This is understandable, and one must also consider that alongside the poignant ballads, Ed is known for his hip-hop-directed cuts, which ÷ lacked in some ways. Ed also mentioned that due to the rise of online music streaming services, bonus tracks still garner their deserved attention to an extent.

The musical assortment of this release is apparent when solely discussing the album, but compared to Ed’s past catalog, it is for the most part stale and trite. Hip-hop cuts like “New Man” and “Eraser” offer Ed’s clunky rap sequences and poor production quality. Sappy amorous ballads like “Perfect” and “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” feel disingenuous and unrealistic. (Of course, this is assuredly subjective; some fans adore his hip-hop moments and/or his mushy romantic articles, but I personally have never found them interesting.) (Also, how did Ed think it would be flattering to compare his lover to a “pothole?” Yuck.) The overt love serenades, swelling with passion, virtually come across as just an attempt to pull at your heartstrings, which seems exploitative to an extent. (And trying to mimic the success of “Thinking Out Loud.”) The only tolerable romantic nocturne is “How Would You Feel (Paean),” which is embellished by the delectable piano accompaniment.

EDIT: Ed Sheeran said in an interview with Zane Lowe that his main motivation for writing “Perfect” was to prove that he could write fabulous love songs on his own and outdo “Thinking Out Loud,” which he wrote with Amy Wadge. This bolsters my feelings of insincerity in Ed’s latest songwriting.

However, pieces like “Castle on the Hill” and “Galway Girl” do illustrate some sonic variation not typically discovered on his previous albums. (With the exception of the stellar “English Rose” from ×, which is quite overlooked if you ask me.) “Castle on the Hill” follows in the bombastic vein of a Mumford & Sons-esque stadium epic, something new for Ed. “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan” find Ed exploring his near Celtic background and fondness for Ireland with an Irish band, something that truly stands out on this full-length. Bonus tracks like “Barcelona” and “Bibia Be Ye Ye” show him placing a toe outside his comfort zone with a more Latin leaning vibe, and he even roughly speaks Spanish on the former and Twi on the latter! Again, it’s a shame these tunes were attached as bonus material because it is the only minor evidence and incorporation of Ed’s travels across the globe. The impassioned love divertissements do offer some symphonic diversity with their orchestral inflections and female backing vocals, like on the soulful “Dive,” and Ed is cementing a somewhat unique sound with these timbres.

The easy accessibility and listenability of ÷ causes it to suffer in some ways. Ed’s pop sensibility seemingly dumbs down his trademark emotional contemplation and self-examination to appeal to a larger audience. The lyrics of this album plainly don’t punch the listener in the gut like his preceding projects did. He immolates auricular risk-taking over his traditional familiarity and generic acoustic timbre which has grown threadbare throughout his career. ÷ is not entirely atrocious or abominable by any degree, but it does not scrape the expectations we had set for him after his antecedent release, hiatus, and worldwide excursions. ÷ warrants a solid 5/10 for its lack of progression and variety, and I’ll personally only be revisiting a small handful of songs. (As opposed to my constant return to his full previous records!)

What are your thoughts on ÷? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Best songs: “Castle on the Hill,” “Save Myself,” “Dive,” “Supermarket Flowers,” “How Would You Feel (Paean)”
  • Worst songs: “Happier,” “New Man,” “Perfect,” “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here”

Panic! at the Disco – Death of a Bachelor, 2016 (Album Review)

Man, this review has been a long time coming. Panic! at the Disco’s 2016 album Death of a Bachelor will be one year old next month, so we thought we might as well get around to reviewing it before then. Panic! at the Disco has been dwindled down to solely frontman Brendon Urie, a Las Vegas native who draws influences from his city and musical legends, such as Queen and Frank Sinatra. Panic! has taken on many different personas throughout the past decade-long career, shifting styles with every new album release from pop rock to The Beatles-inspired folk pop to Vaudeville to electronica. Panic! has done it all, but now with Urie remaining as the only true member, how does Death of a Bachelor shape up?

Well, Death of a Bachelor is like a bit of everything, which sounds great but not really. Every song sounds different, which I can commend Urie for incorporating variety, but it doesn’t make for an easy listen when the style is constantly transitioning. Death of a Bachelor is more of a collection of songs, and the songs are mostly decent on their own, but it’s not a cohesive, flowing record by any means. Overall, the full-length is plainly disheveled and does not age well over time. Honestly, the more I listen to this album, the more I never want to play it again.

Panic! has never had a distinct style, so for Death of a Bachelor to sound different than all their past projects is not a surprise. But the problem is that Panic!’s previous long-players have all had a distinct style of their own, whereas Death of a Bachelor is a messy amalgam of so many contrasting types. There isn’t one clear-cut genre I can label this album with. It’s not that I’m “afraid of difference and nonconformity” or “afraid of integrating various musical fashions;” it’s more that this album is a headache to listen through due to its incoherence and discord.

Look, like I said, the songs are generally pretty alright on their own, and ideally, Urie should’ve taken one or two similar sounding songs and expanded upon their particular style to create the album instead of mingling vastly differing musical categories. Nonetheless, even most of the songs on Death of a Bachelor have problems of their own. (Not to mention the terrible marketing behind issuing the full-length. Seriously, 6 out of 11 songs were pre-released in some way, meaning only 5 songs were actually delivered on the release date.)

Of course, there’s also a lot of other problems with Death of a Bachelor, (and some good things,) so let’s just take this track by track. The album opens with “Victorious,” an upbeat, entertaining party song. The production of this piece, (and most of the album,) is done extremely well, except the guitars seem very muted. Panic! always featured stellar guitar work, but since 2013’s album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, which leaned heavily on electronic elements, the guitars have become more and more in the background with every new publication. “Victorious” is simply a feel-good party anthem, and there isn’t much to dig into in terms of lyrical content. The vocal melodies on this song are, well, annoying? Urie has always been one of the better singers in the pop rock/emo alternative scene, and now as the only remaining member of Panic!, he seems to feel inclined to show off his operatic talent even more. However, when he aims to hit pitches in the upper register, it just kinda… hurts to listen to. I will applaud him for his skill, and also his musical abilities considering he supposedly accomplished all the instrumental efforts on this album himself, but sometimes the vocal refrains can be nerve-wracking and aggravating over time.

The next tune “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” is another party canticle, but more toned down musically in terms of flair and glamour. Again, there isn’t much to comment on with such straightforward libretto, but sorry, I am gonna rip to shreds the “Rock Lobster” sampling. You know, it seems as if Brendon has been following a little too closely in the footsteps of his musical father-figure Fall Out Boy since 2013 when the Chicago band returned from their hiatus. Well, he’s always been under their wing since signing on to Pete Wentz’s record label in 2004, but now in recent years, the affinity and relative imitation has been more prevalent than ever. Brendon turned to the same producer of Fall Out Boy’s 2013 Save Rock and Roll to operate on Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, resulting in strikingly identical sounding records, and now “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” incorporates the famous guitar riff from The B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” similar to Fall Out Boy’s implementation of The Munsters’ theme song in their hit “Uma Thurman.” Brendon also employed Jake Sinclair to help produce Death of a Bachelor, which unsurprisingly produced Fall Out Boy’s 2015 album, American Beauty/American Psycho. He also joined on board with Crush Management, the team behind Fall Out Boy. Come on, Brendon, you could at least be a bit more original…?

Anyway, the third piece on the album is “Hallelujah,” which was the first single released back in April of 2015. Similar to “Victorious,” “Hallelujah” does not age well and becomes irritating over time. Brendon focuses too much on showing off his vocal talent, resulting in a song that barely hits the 3-minute mark because he basically left out an entire chorus. The stripped-down closing tag should have been the pinnacle of the tune as the bridge section, but since it’s just thrown on at the end, it’s borderline forgettable and doesn’t pack the punch that it had the potential to. “Hallelujah” does actually stand out as the first decent song on the album so far in terms of lyricism and features a robust horn department. While Urie does coalesce horns all throughout the album, the styles in which they are utilized are exceedingly different.

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“Emperor’s New Clothes” is the fourth track and introduces computerized components even more, from the opening synthetic melody to the distorted voice inflections. The songwriting echoes Brendon’s rise to fame and now taking over the band name entirely for himself, hinting that Death of a Bachelor is basically “the end of eras,” i.e. Panic! before becoming Brendon’s solo career. (We’ll talk more about that later.) “Emperor’s New Clothes” also displays the horn section and hey, sometimes you can actually hear the guitars! However, the vocal performance is again bothersome and gloaty. The high notes are virtually unnecessary and exasperating. As much as I want to love this track, the lyrics ultimately turn me off personally considering how conceited Brendon comes across. (We’ll also talk more about that later as well.)

Remember when Brendon described “Death of a Bachelor” as a mix of Beyoncé and Frank Sinatra? Yeah, I do too, and I was excited, but this song is disappointing. The production quality is great and all, but the problem here is literally just Brendon Urie. I can’t stand the way he sings this song, it’s so over-the-top and bombastic. The same cancer has been infecting this entire album so far: the vocal melodies are simply annoying. I really want to like these songs, but Brendon’s choral performances just make me want to turn it off and delete it from my library. How much more conceited can you be with, “When you think of me/Am I the best you’ve ever had?” I thought we left this immature egotism in A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, which was slightly understandable in that time period because he wasn’t nearly 30 years old. Jesus, all I can say when I listen to “Death of a Bachelor” is, “Can you shut up?” Skip.

“Crazy = Genius” is the sixth piece on the record and is characterized by achingly simple guitar melodies but also an ear-catching horn section. This tune is the key swing article of Death of a Bachelor, which should have also been expanded upon alongside the style of “Hallelujah.” (If he had made a record based off these two songs, it might actually be prudent and listenable.) The lyricism of “Crazy = Genius” is moderately introspective when mentioning The Beach Boys’s Mike Love, Dennis, and Brian Wilson. Brian was the “genius” behind the ’60s sensation while Mike Love was against Wilson’s more innovative approaches. Yet, appropriately, Urie says he’ll “never be Dennis Wilson,” who began a solo career to continue the “beautiful, happy, spiritual music” The Beach Boys had originally created. Brendon says that “if crazy equals genius, then I’m a fucking arsonist, I’m a rocket scientist,” meaning he’s essentially insane enough to be a genius. Of course, that’s debatable considering how disarrayed this latest record is.

The seventh track is “LA Devotee,” which I surprisingly don’t have many issues with. “LA Devotee” is quite possibly the best piece on Death of a Bachelor, and even though the higher notes displayed in the chorus after the key change are a bit over Urie’s head, he peculiarly pulls them off exceptionally well. The song is an enjoyable and catchy ode to the Los Angeles city life with excellent songwriting in the lyrical department and balance of the organic instrumentation (brass section) with the electronic aspects. “LA Devotee” creates imagery of neon lights and desert skies, and this is exactly what we’ve been expecting from Death of a Bachelor. While Brendon discusses his recent marriage and “settling down” in many of the songs, this record also largely revolves around the party scene of the city, similar to “Vegas Lights” from its predecessor. “LA Devotee” stands as a testament to Urie’s descriptive lyricism and newfound spirit for having a night out on the town.

The next song, “Golden Days,” details the discovery of old Polaroids, allowing Brendon to examine the concept of time and aging. The verses of “Golden Days” are musically ominous and portentous, but the chorus is exciting and provocative, minus the vexatiously prolonged syllables of, “Golden days, golden days,” being repeated over and over. The theme of this piece is ultimately carpe diem, seizing the current moment and having fun in order to reminisce fondly on in the future. “Golden Days” is a revolt against “growing older” and is decisively one of the better tracks on the album, but it just doesn’t fit. Like I said, Death of a Bachelor is more of a collection of songs than a well-rounded record because “Golden Days,” for example, doesn’t flow with the jazzy vibe displayed earlier. Yes, it’s a decent song, but not a decent addition to the lineup so far.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty” is enjoyable for its musicality with the blend of electronic ingredients and more natural apparatus, but the lyrical content is extremely confusing. Brendon, I gotta know, what the heck are you talking about? At first, I thought this song could be about how the original members of Panic! have all departed except Urie, (namely in the first verse,) but the second part of the first verse makes just about zero sense when coupled with the beginning part. Then the chorus kicks in, which doesn’t line up with either of the ideas that have been introduced so far. The second verse completes the theme highlighted in the first part of the first verse, but then the bridge does nothing else to complement it even further. I can commend “The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty” for its musical prospect, but the coherence of the actual songwriting is undetected.

The tenth song, “House of Memories,” is similar to “Golden Days” because it doesn’t fit! It’s a fabulous tune, from the earnest lyricism to the balance of instrumentation, except for Brendon’s straining vocals in the bridge. But “House of Memories” just can’t find a home on this record dominated by grandiloquence and jazz influences. “House of Memories” does begin to slow down the full-length and offers a reflective look at a conflicted writer torn between loving their current partner and finding themselves stuck on past sweethearts, painting the idea that he’s nearly afraid to get close in fear of being heartbroken yet again. This song is another one of the better tracks on Death of a Bachelor, but still certainly not Urie’s best work.

And finally, “Impossible Year” wraps up the album, but on a rather dismal note. While Urie does try to sell this track as emotional and heartfelt, it’s just a sad vocal imitation of Sinatra and incoherent lyrics. Honestly, “Impossible Year” falls flat on its face and is less than memorable. Urie’s lower octave is obviously not capable of such eloquence and simulation when he seems to lose touch with the deeper pitches. The musicality is a sudden turn that the album could have used more of to set up this abrupt transition, maybe another slower piano-based track earlier on would have helped buoyed this tune along instead of allowing it to just fall off into the pits of being forgettable and unexpected. The lyrics are more than likely outlining the withdrawing of past band members, considering the lines, “There’s no you and me/This impossible year/Only heartache and heartbreak,” are probably not illustrating Urie’s recent marriage. But his pretension undervalues the poignant candor of such lyrics by the piece simply acting as Brendon’s deficient stab at emulating Frank Sinatra.

Overall, Death of a Bachelor scores a 6/10. It’s not terrible, but it’s rudely disappointing. I did find myself coming back to a handful of these songs, but individually because they don’t jive well together, and I do tend to get some of the more enjoyable melodies stuck in my head. Brendon seems to focus too much on showing off his vocal ability rather than writing a coherent, well-rounded record. Look, Brendon, you’ll never be Frank Sinatra or Freddie Mercury. (That poor cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” gave me a disease.) If you wanna make a name for yourself, try pushing new boundaries and setting your own trends instead of ripping off other artists. *cough* Fall Out Boy. *cough*

Urie has a niche that works for him, and as much as I can respect artists stepping outside their comfort zones and trying new things, it just didn’t work on Death of a Bachelor. Brendon should plainly go solo and drop the Panic! name so his new albums can’t be compared to Panic!’s past work. I feel like I would have been somewhat more receptive or at least more understanding of it if it had been published as a solo project. It still would’ve have been a messy record, but at least I wouldn’t be able to say it’s not “a good Panic! album” because there is a standard carried with their name. It shows that Brendon is basically using the band’s name for recognition to garner more profit and publicity. For a guy who is so painfully full of himself, you would think he’d be more than happy to market his own name! My main issue with this record and Urie himself is just that: his obnoxious ego. (I mean, seriously, his Twitter bio says “35% talent, 65% water.” Like, do we really need a popular performer to rub his talent in our faces all the time?) It’s why most of the melodies on this album suffered, because Brendon was too concentrated on boasting his vocal skills than actually making something that sounds pleasant to the ears. Also, former bassist Dallon Weekes did not contribute creatively on Death of a Bachelor at all and was demoted solely to a touring member, which is essentially Brendon saying, “I want to do this record all by myself. It’s gonna be The Brendon Urie Show. I want it my way.” (No Sinatra pun intended.) So if he wanted this record to be his so badly, why didn’t he just begin a solo career with it? Sorry, Brendon, your attempt to be the “jazzy Fall Out Boy” is not a Panic! album in my book, and it’s the weakest full-length in their discography to date.

Hopefully Brendon’s and his fanbase’s inability to accept criticism (click here) won’t be lavished upon this review. I want to end this post with this: I am a huge Panic! at the Disco fan, mainly due to their first four long-players, but Death of a Bachelor really rubbed me the wrong way. I want to love this album, I really do, and I really tried, but it’s just not working for me personally. I’ll keep spinning their earlier records for as long as I can, but I just can’t bring myself to love this latest addition. I have hope that Brendon’s next project can make a comeback, however.

What do you think of Death of a Bachelor? Let us hear it in the comments below!

  • Best songs: “LA Devotee,” “House of Memories,” “Golden Days”
  • Worst songs: “Death of a Bachelor,” “Impossible Year,” “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time”