Panic! at the Disco – Viva Las Vengeance review

2023-04-23  Music

Viva Las Vengeance is perhaps the greatest album ever to have almost completely passed me by, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. It was only via a coincidental search that I caught the titular single and Middle of a Breakup on Panic! at the Disco’s YouTube channel, and there seemed to be very little fanfare in the buildup to the album’s August 2022 release.

When I did realise the record was out, I listened through it exactly once on Spotify, my expectations fairly low given the more pop-focused direction of its predecessor, Pray for the Wicked. Maybe I was in the wrong mood or too distracted, but I didn’t think much of it, and skipped on tickets for the tour when I saw Brandon Urie was playing the album in full at gigs.

How foolish I was. In mid-April 2023, I spotted an article from earlier in the year that said that Panic! at the Disco were no more, with Urie having wound down the project to focus on his family. In a mournful mood (Pretty. Odd. and Death of a Bachelor are two of my favourite albums), I revisited Viva Las Vengeance to see if anything clicked, or if I could piece together anything about his state of mind when writing and recording it.

Once I got beyond the two opening singles, I was entranced. Far from the last record’s bland pop, Viva Las Vengeance is deliberately recorded as a tribute to 1970s rock, and in that sense almost serves as a sequel to Pretty. Odd.’s 1960s tones. While there’s plenty of variety, these influences are most apparent in the Queen-style harmonies and Brian May-inspired solos.

With the benefit of hindsight, lyrics about sex and partners begin to look more like metaphors for Urie’s relationship with fame, the music industry, and Panic! itself. Look below the surface and there are allusions to his love-hate feelings for his station in life and ponderings about what might have been had he never been thrust into the limelight. If you think this sounds like self-pity, sometimes it is, but it never outstays its welcome.

Put simply, Viva Las Vengeance is a grower. What at first appears to be surface-level showmanship and derivative composition shows greater depth the more you listen. If this does turn out to be Panic! at the Disco’s last album - and it appears it will be, at least for the moment - then we should be thankful that the final release expanded their top two to a top three.

Track by track

1. Viva Las Vengeance
The opener sets the mood for the album, with a feeling that Urie is resigned to giving in to the pressures on him (“shut up and go to bed”). He’s not going out without a bang, though, as referenced by both the song’s final lyrics and the screaming falsetto with which they’re delivered.

2. Middle of a Breakup
Energetic, catchy, and the pick of the album’s singles for me. My theory is that what initially felt like a typical Panic! sexual theme (“make-up sex in the middle of a breakup”) may actually be referring to the joy of performing shows for fans even while falling out of love with the music industry.

3. Don’t Let the Light Go Out
As slow and emotional as the album gets, with Urie expressing his gratitude for a partner that challenges him in all the right ways. Heartfelt, with a nice buildup, although the “heavy machinery” line is a little clunky.

4. Local God
Probably the most interesting song on the album lyrically, as Urie appears to imagine what his life might have been like if he hadn’t become famous. A pleasant change of pace with some nice guitar work in the middle eight as he wholesomely muses on “teaching little kids how to rock and roll”.

5. Star Spangled Banner
A stadium anthem with a chant-like chorus and jazzy, uptempo verses telling stories that seem to hark back to Urie’s teenage years. This nostalgic reflection on his and the band’s beginnings will be a recurring theme.

6. God Killed Rock and Roll
If the album’s Queen influences weren’t obvious enough elsewhere, Panic! really hit the nail on the head here with some piano sections that sound like they’re ripped straight from Bohemian Rhapsody. Urie’s voice once again steals the show with the refrain, full of rock history references.

7. Say It Louder
Feels like an interlude between two halves of the album, and serves as a flip side to Local God as Urie takes a moment to revel in Panic!’s success. In retrospect, the slow middle section about committing a rock show to memory reads like a mourning of the parts of the lifestyle he does enjoy.

8. Sugar Soaker
Lifts the mood as probably the most fun song on the record, even if it lacks the depth of many others. This upbeat, riff-based track has call-and-response verses before hitting a lively, catchy chorus that show off Urie’s vocal acumen with a clever chord switchout the second time round.

9. Something About Maggie
This track almost feels like a little tribute to Pretty. Odd. in the middle of the album, complete with some familiar-sounding horns in the latter stages. Some lyrics in the verses could potentially be read as an acknowledgment of long-time fans’ criticisms of Panic!’s last, poppier album.

10. Sad Clown
Almost certainly evidence that Urie knew he was quitting well before the public announcement. “Leave me alone,” he screams, amongst lyrics alluding to disillusionment with endless performances and online criticism. The verse melody and It’s My Life-style riff are personal highlights.

11. All By Yourself
A slower number that I think deserved to be the final, farewell song. The lyrics speak to the universal experience of feeling down and locking yourself in your room to listen to a record, feeling that the artist is speaking directly to you and inspiring you to get back on your feet and achieve something.

12. Do It to Death
If I were to point to a weak point on the album, it’s probably this last song, which is just a little too repetitive for my tastes. The verses the most interesting segments, but make up on a small fraction of the track.


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