Slight and self-indulgent, but incapable of tapping the retro vein it apes. P!ATD's cheesiness has been robbed of any capacity to endear, and the aftertaste is just sour.
The 2010s seem a decade doomed to cross-generational melancholia, haunted by the fads and tropes of the Glorious Noughties. Cosmopolitan artefacts ostensibly retired circa 2008 (dubstep, the lads’ mag, pick-up artistry, Tony Blair) render their twilit existence known to all, in some form or another, at disturbingly regular intervals; that we cling to such garbage, in the age of iPhones and identity politics, is testament to a crippling timidity at the heart of Western popular culture, a zeitgeist that fancies itself post-historical but cannot, when push comes to shove, carve out its own niches and terms with which to articulate itself.
In this respect, Panic! At The Disco’s fifth studio album makes for a temporally refreshing listen – just below the hideous mock-Eurotrash beats and Brendon Urie’s zombielicious vocals, one might discern the death-wail of the emo child, that most exasperating of early-21st Century cults. After much experimentation (2011’s Vices & Virtues toyed with Arcade Fire-esque baroque fare), the band has ditched their mopey aesthetics and binged on the electronica. But it’s a whole other nostalgia that has possessed Urie and the gang, a hankering for a Prohibition-era New York that never really existed outside of Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby pastiche. In short, sweet bursts, Death of a Bachelor is decidedly charmless fun; as an artistic product, it’s about as gratifying as a shot of asbestos-laced whisky.
The album’s two singles, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Victorious’, are arguably its lowest points. The latter, its opener (“Double bubble disco queen, headed to the guillotine / Skin as cool as Steve McQueen”), is destined to go down in history as the Worst Thing Ever Written With The Input Of Rivers Cuomo; the title track, an attempt to channel Frank Sinatra through bass drops and digital tomfoolery, is something closer to a forgivable mess. Indeed, the influence of the Sultan of Swoon hangs awkwardly over the production; P!ATD has always been a live act, quite a bit better when let loose upon a stage, and Urie’s showmanship is a caricature of his hero’s. He wants to be the Oscar Wilde of synthrock, but his execution falls fabulously short, quarter-Gerard Way, quarter-anime villain, half-Christian Grey.
The cocaine-slick presentation might be forgiven, this coming from the guys that did ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’, and the band itself doesn’t sound dreadful so much as it comes off as woefully lazy. This is music in a vacuum – where once P!ATD’s antiquity was a pleasant side-dish, no substance is here spared the champagne showers. Four songs in, the keyboard / techno renditions to which Urie’s languid lyrics are set begin to resemble the soundtrack to a lost Castlevania game; those attuned to the band’s professional corniness will probably ride through the madness, but it’s an otherwise nausea-inducing combination.
Death of a Bachelor is out now via WEA International.