Panic! at the Disco: A Personal History and Album Ranking

Brendon Urie recently announced that the musical project known as Panic! at the Disco was coming to an end. Some outlets have been reporting it as a band breakup but that seems odd considering the “band” has been a solo project since the release of the fifth album in 2016. Not sure how exactly Urie is expected to have broken up with himself. Either way, this feels very much like the end of an era. As such I thought I would do a sort of retrospective, complete with a ranking of the seven albums from worst to best. Though really there is no such thing as a bad Panic! Album.

Let’s set the stage first with some background on my personal history with the group. I was actually avidly anti-Panic! when their first album came out. I’m definitely going to date myself here. I was a senior in high school. Back in the days where you discovered a band either through the “modern hits” filled soundtrack of the latest teen flick, or the local radio stations. In my case it was what was then known as STAR 98.7 and KROQ 106.7. The former played “alternative” songs while the latter played more rock heavy material. Spotify wasn’t yet a thing and MP3 players were just getting to be trendy.

You might also have heard of a band through a friend sharing their latest musical discovery via burned CDs (I know, I know, way to really date myself). Then, there was the way I learned about Panic! This was when a band became suddenly ubiquitous, with their merch taking over the walls of Hot Topic (by the way, is Hot Topic still a thing?) and you couldn’t escape their logos and faces. All the kids in your class would be wearing their shirts and fake leather wristbands, and talking about how amazingly intellectual this new band with the crazy name that had punctuation really was.

So, when I first heard about Panic! I thought they were incredibly pretentious with their exclamation point and song titles that were full on sentences. I hated them for the sheer attitude that exuded from their music. I mean, I wasn’t wrong. They were really pretentious. But I eventually came to appreciate the often times brilliant creativity buried in what was passed off as mindless pop rock music. I came to identify key moments from my personal life with their music as it became the soundtrack of so many of my memories. I have had the joy of being a fan of their music for fifteen years (I officially converted with the release of the second album), and have had the privilege of seeing them perform live over a dozen times. With that little history out of the way, let’s take a look at the albums of this band I have loved for the past almost two decades.

Coming in at number seven is Pray for the Wicked (2018), the sixth studio album and second to come from the “band” in its solo enterprise days. Let me repeat, there is no such thing as a bad Panic! album in my mind. There are things about Pray for the Wicked that I absolutely adore, and in fact it features my all time favorite Panic! song. Perhaps the reason I feel less enamored of this record is because it is the only one that feels like it was made for the Spotify age. It is a collection of singles rather than a cohesive album. I am a firm believer that music tells the best stories when crafted to take the listener on a journey through complex musical experiences expressed through a strategic series of songs. Pray for the Wicked lacks a strong through line in terms of musical themes and tone, which is why its place is at the bottom of the list.

Best Song: When I first heard “Dying in LA” I ended up sobbing by the end of it. It came to me when I was considering moving from the Los Angeles area after living there my entire life. I love LA but there are many things about it that I find soul crushing, and I really struggled with my decision. The song perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of optimism and despondency that LA seems to evoke in so many people. It is beautiful and sad yet strangely hopeful. It felt like Urie was singing about my own experiences and I was overwhelmed. I’m sure it didn’t affect many others the way it did me but “Dying in LA” still feels like the most emotionally mature Panic! song, and it is a rare gem in an otherwise dare I say mediocre album.

At number six we have the fourth studio album, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! (2013) complete with its own exclamation point. From this point forward I feel that each album has its own musical identity fusing it together, with that telltale Panic! vibe running along the foundation. Too Weird definitely leans more into the electronic side of the Panic! sound, sometimes a little too heavily for my taste but the collection of songs sound like they belong together, and feel like they have a story to tell. “This Is Gospel” is a strong opener and a perfect beginning link for the future albums that use its theme in their singles. With lines like “This is Gospel for the fallen ones/Locked away in permanent slumber/Assembling their philosophies/From pieces of broken memories” it is one of the stronger songs lyrically on the album. Then there is “Miss Jackson” which just has such a killer hook and pulsing guitar rift that you can’t help but want to jump up and dance. I had the chance to hear “Vegas Lights” live on the strip while the casino lights were flashing and there isn’t really another experience like it. The energy that song brings is insane. The rest of the songs run a little calm but still feel like they hold their own with the hits.

Best Song: “Girls / Girls / Boys” has become an anthem of sorts and a tradition was born for the live shows that plays on the old concert ritual of holding a lighter up during particularly emotional songs. Multi-colored paper hearts are passed out by a fan group before the show so that during the performance the audience can hold up their own rainbow backlit with their phone flashlights. The song itself starts off almost at a whisper before building to the chorus where Urie finally belts out the title lyrics, as though he’s no longer able to contain the secret affairs of the girl who is the subject of the piece. It also doesn’t hurt that the music video for the song features a shirtless Urie singing seductively to the camera.

At number five is Vices & Virtues (2011), the third album and first to come out after the departure of founding members Ryan Ross and John Walker. This might lean a little too steampunk for some listeners but the sound of the album is one of the strongest and it begins the evolution of the band from youthful snarkiness to mature musical themes. Once again the album kicks off with a strong opener, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” showcasing Urie’s signature voice right off to assure fans that despite the loss of two band members it is still the same Panic! Well, perhaps a slightly more polished Panic!. Other strong entries include “Let’s Kill Tonight,” “Hurricane,” and “Trade Mistakes.” Though really each track is a contender for best on the album. They all feel like their own individual piece of a bigger puzzle that fits together to form the very solid Vices & Virtues.

Best Song: “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” combines the best of the two essential elements that form a Panic! song, the upbeat musical beats and snappy lyrics. The call and response in the chorus adds to the driving bass and pulsating guitar making it near impossible to not jump up and down while shout-singing the line “I’m ready to go/(Get me out of my mind)/(Get me out of my mind)/I’m ready to go/(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh).”

Number four on the list is Pretty. Odd. (2008), the second studio album. This time around the pretentiousness goes up a level because while the title of the album features double punctuation the official band name has dropped its punctuation (the exclamation point does return and stays with the release of the third album). The confusing sentence structure of the title and name aside, this album is brilliant both in terms of its music and what it proved for the band’s staying power. This of course is ironic considering it eventually led to the first “breakup” of the group, and I am writing about it in a post celebrating the legacy of a soon to be disbanded entity. What it proved right off was that a band could reinvent themselves musically and still be considered a success. Tonally this album is miles away from the first, clearly influenced by The Beatles and the sound of 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock. Despite mixing musical genres in the span of a couple songs the album feels cohesive in its incohesiveness. Standout tracks include the initial single “Nine in the Afternoon,” “Northern Downpour,” “Pas de Cheval,” and my personal favorite from the album, “Folkin’ Around.”

Best Song: One of the most beautifully written songs by the band, “When the Day Met the Night” tells the sweet story of the moon and sun falling in love with each other, “in the middle of summer.” At nearly five minutes in length it is the longest of any Panic! song and features full orchestration.

The original Panic! album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005) comes in at number three. I’ll admit I struggled with where to place this album on the list. As I mentioned before, when it first came out I resisted it but like the catchy thing it is it eventually worked its way into my heart. I still think some of it crosses the line between clever and irritating. The “Introduction” and “Intermission” tracks fall into the first category, providing an easing into and midpoint break of the chaotic trip the listener embarks on. The long titles of tracks two, three, seven, and twelve fall into that second category. At the end of the day this is the album that started it all and eighteen years later it is still easy to see why it became the monster hit it did. It would deserve a high ranking for that alone but it is also a creatively clever album that embraces energetic chaos and sonic diversity.

Best Song: “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Nothing else needs to be said.

My number two choice may be a bit controversial to some fans, and is perhaps only a little influenced by recency bias. Still, I maintain that the last album, Viva Las Vengeance (2022), will go down in history as one of the best Panic! albums of all time. It is a love letter to classic rock with musical references to bands from the 70s and 80s that created the sound Urie is fixated on, littered throughout the album. “Star Spangled Banger” riffs on the classic Thin Lizzy motif of “talking as singing” in its bridges. “Middle of a Breakup” sounds like The Cars jumped in the recording studio with Urie and he even name drops T. Rex in the chorus. He then name drops ELO in “Sugar Soaker” while evoking Meatloaf vibes. And of course there is “Sad Clown,” which could have been titled “I Love Queen and Here is a Song to Prove It.” There are also writing credits on multiple tracks for the artists that inspired them, including “God Killed Rock and Roll” which essentially steals directly from the Kiss song of a similar name. This album should serve as a starting point of educational material for those not familiar with the bands I just mentioned. Aside from the number one album this is the strongest in terms of musical themes, and in my opinion doesn’t feature a single weak track. Though I am sad the band is done, this is a hell of an album to end on.

Best Song: All of them. Listen to the entire album as it was meant to be heard from start to finish.

Then there was one. Death of a Bachelor (2016) is the fifth studio album and the first to be released as part of the solo enterprise. It is the second most successful in terms of sales and it’s easy to see why. I’ll come right out and say it, this is a perfect rock album. It starts off banging with “Victorious” and doesn’t slow down until it finally allows the listener to take a breath of air with the closing track, “Impossible Year.” Its singles included “Hallelujah,” which feels like a religious experience when you hear it live. Don’t believe me? Just listen to “All My Friends We’re Glorious: Death of a Bachelor Live” album. There is also the title track which is Urie’s very capable ode to Frank Sinatra. We could also talk about the incredible music videos that were created for the album, perhaps most impressive of which is the one for “Emperor’s New Clothes,” featuring Urie in full makeup as a demon king. Or there’s the octopus alien thing from “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time.” Everything about this album is perfect.

Best Song: As with the previous entry this album is best experienced as a whole, though I will highlight “LA Devotee,” as it features my favorite subject material and is just full of dark moody vibes.


Album Review: Taylor Swift Lover

A few weeks ago I posted reviews of 1989 and reputation, Taylor Swift’s last two albums, in an attempt to get pumped for the release of Lover, her newest project, which I was apprehensive about. Revisiting those albums, and let’s be honest, the earlier ones as well, did the job. On release day I went early to Target and bought the album. Several copies of it in fact as I got swept up in all the excitement of the two other ladies there for the same reason, and the Target employees setting up the displays. It reminded me of how I felt with Taylor Swift’s other releases. Anticipating new music should be fun, and there’s nothing quite like listening to a new album all the way through for the first time. Some songs will catch you right away, others need a few plays to get into. So, I gave into that feeling, and now that I’ve had some time to digest the album, let’s get into my thoughts on Lover.


“I Forgot That You Existed”
I’ve said it before, Taylor Swift knows how to pick an album opener. This is a laid back brush off to what is presumably a former boyfriend, though it could apply to any of her “haters.” It feels effortlessly nonchalant despite the fact that the point of the song, that she’s forgotten someone existed, is impossible to do while singing about how much she doesn’t think about them any more. It’s a light track that allows the listener to easily slip into what is to come over the next seventeen tracks.

“Cruel Summer”
A solid follow up to the previous song that keeps the low-key vibe going. With eighteen tracks, a majority of which are under the three and a half minute mark, it feels like there should be a sense of urgency in the first few, that they would have fast tempos and insistent lyrics. That’s not the case, and I like that Swift doesn’t seem to be in a rush at the start of the album. She seems to be floating around this cool, carefree state of mind, and it works really well. It’s as though she’s saying, don’t worry, just let the music wash over you, and I think the best reaction is to do just that.

I was not a fan of this when it was first released as a single, and it was one of the reasons I was apprehensive about the album. However, it has since grown on me. I think it is a charming song celebrating a well-established relationship. Swift has so many songs about the new feelings rush of a budding romance, and the inevitable crash and burn of failed ones that it’s nice to see something celebrating the consistent glow of a successful one. It’s also the most country sounding song on the album, which appeals to me.

“The Man”
This is the first song to feel off for me on the album. Here is my issue: Taylor Swift has been a successful singer, songwriter, and businesswoman for the last fifteen years. She hasn’t yet hit 30 and she’s a multi-millionaire and has won dozens of awards. So some of the lyrics snag a bit as inauthentic/whiny. Yes, she has to deal with things a normal person would never dream of. I can’t imagine what it is like to have every aspect of your life scrutinized by the public. On the other hand, she literally marketed this album with versions that include pages from her diaries (I know because I purchased some). She is inviting the public into some very private moments, and when you do that, people don’t always react the way you want them to. Though I think she often invites the media beast in as much as she complains about it, the song is catchy.

“The Archer”
Another one of the first round of singles that I wasn’t enthusiastic about. The lyrics are fine enough, though I don’t think they are quite as brilliant as some critics have been saying. The music leaves something to be desired, and as a result the song feels bland. It falls especially flat when considering that its place on the album (track five), and its melancholic feel puts it in direct comparison to “All Too Well” from her album Red, which is by far the superior song.

“I Think He Knows”
After a couple of lackluster songs, Swift swings back into the cool groove she set up early on with this upbeat track about that rush that comes with the start of a new relationship. It’s light and airy without being trite. This also sets the trend for the rest of the album, there are some fun, energized tracks followed by a few less enthusiastic ones and so on.

“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”
Supposedly this is Swift’s protest anthem, and I can see where people are drawing that conclusion from the lyrics. What I can appreciate about the song is that whatever that message is, it is subtle enough to pass by on the first couple of listens. This means that even those who oppose her can listen without feeling excluded. Plus, it won’t feel dated in a few years. All that said, the song is a little dystopian sounding but with a pretty catchy chorus.

“Paper Rings”
Now we get to my favorite song on the album. This is Lover’s “Stay Stay Stay” but with a pop rock twist. It sounds as though it could fit right in on the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. It has a very early 2000s girl pop power rock vibe, and the entire thing has a frantic energy that practically screams for you to immediately jump up and dance along. To quote Swift (at the end of “Stay Stay Stay”), “It’ so fun!”

“Cornelia Street”
Despite this being a ballad, I actually really like it. It’s a soft, vulnerable confession of insecurity and fear where Swift tells her “lover” just how badly she would be hurt if they ever broke up. She knows she would be so devastated that she wouldn’t be able to go back to the places they’ve been together. It is both that beautifully unguarded admission, and a wonderfully sweet tribute to the relationship that she admits this place is so meaningful to her.

“Death by a Thousand Cuts”
After a string of pretty solid tunes, we hit another snag. Again, the song isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit blah in comparison to the others. The lyrics are actually quite good, and poetic. It’s the music that lacks anything interesting to contribute, and since this is a musical album, and not a poetry book, the song falls flat. With an album this stuffed, there were bound to be some duds.

“London Boy”
This track has the opposite problem of the previous one. The lyrics aren’t really clever but the music is fun, and it has a singsong feel that works well. It could easily cross over into the annoying side of things but it hasn’t yet been around enough for that to happen so it ends up being cute rather than cloying.

“Soon You’ll Get Better”
Right when Swift gets you thinking she’s just making a light-hearted album of love songs, she gut-punches you with this track about her mother’s struggle with breast cancer. She collaborates with the Dixie Chicks to deliver a powerful, emotionally fueled song that anyone who has dealt with the severe sickness of a loved one can relate to immediately.

“False God”
This is the first forgettable song of the album. The other mediocre tracks have had at least one thing going for them, whether it was a particular line, or that the music was snappy. This track stays at the same monotone the entire time and doesn’t have anything interesting in terms of lyrics or music to offer up in exchange.

“You Need to Calm Down”
I do not like this song. I didn’t like it when it was first released as a single, and then the video was released and I liked it even less. As part of the album, I appreciate that it has a purpose in communicating Swift’s message but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be skipping it on every replay. I have thoughts on the song but too many to hash out in a format like this. I’ll just say that I think it’s hypocritical and condescending without at least being catchy. I’m also not sure I could phrase it better than Emily Jashinsky over at The Federalist. If you’re interested in a more thorough analysis of the song and video, you should check out that article.

I think I like the chorus of this song, I just can’t quite tell because I don’t find any of the other verses interesting or memorable. I like the idea behind the song, that Swift is admitting to overreacting to something that happened in a relationship, and is owning up to it. Perhaps on further listens this will grow on me but for the time being it falls into the middling pile.

Nope, even in the context of the overall album, I still hate this song. Though it is nice that they removed the “Spelling is fun” line from the final album version. It was just so disappointing to hear this song after anticipating the first single off her new album, and knowing that Brendon Urie was on the track (I’m a huge Panic! at the Disco fan). I don’t think it’s original, catchy, or insightful in anyway, meaning it doesn’t make it fun to listen to, which is what I think she was going for.


“It’s Nice to Have a Friend”
This may be the weirdest song from a Taylor Swift album, and I really like it. There’s something intriguing about the plucking effect of the music going along with Swift’s straight delivery of the lyrics. She also does this thing where she almost whispers the word “Friend” at the end of that line, as though she’s sharing a secret with the listener. It all adds up to a strangely creepy-yet-sweet vibe that oddly works.

I feel like this is meant to leave more of an impact than it does. Then again, maybe it is supposed to be the fade away of the album. Swift has set up the rest of the album to feel less momentous and more laid back. This song kind of does that. She even says in it that she once thought love was “burnin’ red” but realizes now it is “golden.” Gold is a much milder color compared to red and would be more likely to be associated with good feelings and easy vibes. It isn’t bad but it also isn’t memorable and as a bookend to album, it leaves things wanting.

Lover as a whole is something of a mixed bag. It has some really strong tracks, and the theme is solidly reinforced throughout. It also has some of the worst Taylor Swift music of her seven albums, and over-a-decade long career. The second half isn’t nearly as strong as the first but it does have some creative twists that hit the mark. Overall, I like the album, and I would probably place it just above reputation, and 1989. It works as a pop album but it doesn’t quite reach the insights or emotional resonance of Red or Speak Now.