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Pray for the wicked, fresh and fun until not

One man band, Panic! at the Disco, released an enthusiastic sixth studio album, “Pray for the Wicked,” in June, but despite the high energy and fresh sound, it failed to match previous productions in catchiness and originality.

Since it was founded by four high school friends in 2004, Panic! has survived the exit of five band members. Yet its frontman and biggest star, Brendon Urie, has remained throughout the years. His star power alone has elevated Panic! beyond expectations.

Panic! is famously odd. Their lyrics often seem almost nonsensical; however they still manage to be relatable to many. One of their main draws is how strange they are. Whether they express it through lyrics or music videos, the band’s unique outlook is ingrained in all of its work.

Like all Panic! albums, “Wicked” is provocative, creative and at times downright strange; however, it seems less thorough than other works by the band.

Urie’s last project, “Death of a Bachelor” in 2016, had a cohesive sound. All eleven tracks on “Bachelor” were easy listens and adaptable for different audience moods. They had varying pace, catchiness and messages. Meanwhile, “Wicked” starts strong in the first tracks, then turns into forgettable filler songs.

“Wicked” opens on a high note in “(F*** A) Silver Lining,” an energetic, fast-paced anthem about demanding excellence instead of having a passively optimistic outlook. The second track, “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” follows “Silver Lining’s” entertaining lead, but to really appreciate it, I recommend watching the hilarious and violent music video.

“Saturday Night” is an undeniably fun song, but even as Urie’s unique, expressive vocals remain present in the rest of the album, the excitement on the audience’s end fades. The next song, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” is a silly ode to the artist’s previously unimaginable success, but it does not sound much different from many of the other songs on the album.

“High Hopes,” the fourth track, has hints of the complacency heard in less memorable parts of the album, but the strong vocals on the chorus and thoughtful lyrics make up for the repetitiveness. Urie’s empowering confidence is especially visible in this song, with the lines “didn’t know how but I always had a feeling/I was gonna be that one in a million.”

Surprisingly, the best three songs come in only the first four tracks. “Roaring 20s,” “The Overpass” and “One of the Drunks” seem better at first listen, but none of them stand out when compared to each other. They all feature fast, breathless singing and only differentiate through whatever slightly varied techno beat Urie assigned to them.

At times the the music seems almost nonsensical, but that is typical of Panic!. The real problem is that although the album is edgy and dramatic, it does not match the welcoming absurdity of previous albums’ tracks like “Death of a Bachelor’s,” “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” of Panic!’s debut, “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.”

“Dying in LA,” the final ballad, serves as an appropriate breather session for Urie and listeners. It is the only slow song on the album, but its speed and emotion help listeners differentiate  it from the other tracks. Since it is the last and longest song, it leaves a stronger impression and is more memorable, but the similarities between the rest do them no favors.

“Wicked” makes good use of album ordering. “Silver Lining” offers a striking introduction, drawing people in through liberal use of f-bombs and relentless enthusiasm; however the high expectations it sets up are eventually dissatisfied. None of the songs in “Wicked” are particularly bad or boring. After all, the showman Urie created it and his flair for drama never disappoints. Yet the songs seem tiring after a while, as do Urie’s vocals. The  repetition makes later tracks seemed to blend together despite changed lyrics. Fans might prefer certain songs lyrically, though the mood and sounds of many tracks are practically indistinguishable.

Perhaps Urie is too mature and too tired to look for inspiration from the wild days of his youth. He turned 31 in April. Maybe his ever-changing sound is growing with him, but it could also distance him from younger listeners who are less mellow..

The departure of core band members likely means that “Wicked” afforded Urie an opportunity for more creative freedom, yet for some reason, he seems more subdued. Of course, subdued Urie is different from, say, subdued Taylor Swift by far. His voice is more intense and flexible than most mainstream pop artists. For people with high hopes for “Wicked” to be something as revolutionary as past albums, it is disappointing.

As usual, Urie’s vocals sound striking and dynamic, but he does not reach his full potential. His experimentation was successful in some ways and limited in others. Themes of sin and vintage vibes cannot preserve “Wicked’s” interest, just as Urie’s theatrics and signature voice cannot save it from mediocrity.

Hopefully Panic!’s next album will see more of Urie’s creativity and individuality, but for now only a few of the new Panic! tracks will join the rotation on this writer’s phone.

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