This past Tuesday, the sound of thousands of jaws dropping across the country could be heard as Panic! At the Disco’s new album Too Weird to Live, To Rare to Die! poured from both dusty bar speakers and sleek laptops settled next to pumpkin spice lattes at the local Starbucks.
The rhythmic, vocal layering of “This Is Gospel” and the electronic beats of “Miss Jackson” are drastically different from the “standard” rock beat that dominated their previous album Vices & Virtues, which was released in 2011 following the sudden departure of band members Jon Walker and Ryan Ross. Leader vocalist, Brendon Urie, intended the album to be a showcase of growing up in Las Vegas and visiting the “Old Vegas” that tends to be skipped over by the average visitor for the bright lights and loud noises of the Strip. “Miss Jackson”— based off Urie’s personal experiences and Janet Jackson’s famous hit “Nasty”— paints a realistic picture of troubled youths with time to bide, running through the streets of Old Vegas in the early morning looking for a good time. The song’s shifty beat and rapid lyrics add to a sense of losing control. Lolo’s mysterious soprano voice perfectly balances Urie’s gritty, urban narration of chasing after a devious, impossible-to-catch “Miss Jackson” that he loves. It’s a perfect representation of a crazy night in a forgotten city— mysterious, rapid and uncertain.
In stark contrast to the intense, gritty beat of “Miss Jackson,” “This is Gospel,” the first track on the album, is more akin to the emo-rock beats Panic! At the Disco built their first album upon nearly a decade ago. The song varies between a steady, somber beat with layers of clapping and vocals with a veritable storm of powerful drumming and guitar. It’s a contrast that works to create a musical mood swing between a depressive melancholy and what seems to be a heart-wrenching cry for help. While a powerful piece whose meaning can be taken in a number of ways (getting out of a bad relationship, overcoming addiction or spiritual struggles), “This is Gospel” doesn’t seem to be as much about showcasing Las Vegas as it is about Urie attempting to overcome his personal struggles. It pairs well with “The End of All Things,” an equally somber piece but clashes with the glitzy, electronic beats of tracks like “Miss Jackson” and “Vegas Lights.”
Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die is truly an album with a split personality. Divided between somber, personal pieces like “This Is Gospel” and pre-party pump-up songs like “Vegas Lights,” it takes some flexibility to love. Yet the album possesses a unique “light side-dark side” persona that is perhaps more an homage to old Sin City than Urie’s breathless chase of a good time described in “Miss Jackson.” Behind all the glitz, glamour and neon lies imperfection and a certain grittiness that most of us don’t always want to see, but perhaps need to in order to escape what always isn’t real. What’s real here is the true genius behind this album.
5 out of 5 stars