REVIEW | Five Years Later: Panic! At the Disco’s “Vices & Virtues”

by Sarah Bel Kloetzke

Five years ago, in March of 2011, Panic! At The Disco released their third full-length album, Vices & Virtues. The album was released on Fueled By Ramen at a bleak time for the Las Vegas band after they had lost half of their members, one being their main lyricist, in 2009. Vices & Virtues is a pivotal album in the history of Panic! At The Disco, and in honor of it being kindergarden-age, I’ve decided to revisit it track-by-track.

I press play on my mp3 and am immediately met by the familiar and mysterious chiming notes of “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa.” It’s light, it’s suspenseful, and promising a new future for the band. Then I’m hit by a wall of sound–a strong drumbeat, rolling bass, and frontman Brendon Urie’s strong voice singing like he’s telling a secret. The song feels as mysterious as the Mona Lisa itself, of course, in this song she’s a metaphor for something less static. “Woah Mona Lisa, I’d pay to see you frown.” This song is the perfect opening track for the album, setting a velvet-covered, gold trimmed, peculiar stage.

I love the transition between “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa” and “Let’s Kill Tonight” because there isn’t one. The change from twinkling notes to a drum machine beat is harsh, and perfect. I know that the first track was a slow introduction, and this one is where the action starts. The lyrics are clever up until the chorus, where a simple “Let’s kill tonight! Show them all you’re not the ordinary type,” gets the point across along with some pretty sick dracula-esque synths. I don’t know whether to dance to this song or defeat some brooding evil. Ending with a chorus of string instruments, this track leaves me feeling energized and ready for whatever this eclectic LP throws at me next.

Once I get past the initial confusion of the opening sample in “Hurricane” it’s clear this is my second favorite song of the album. It’s very typical of a poppy artist to use clapping, but it’s used artfully in this track, with a fast-paced beat that I always enjoy trying to keep up with. “Are you worth your weight in gold? ‘Cause you’re behind my eyelids when I’m all alone. Hey stranger, I want you to catch me like a cold.” The lyrics of this quick track are coy, witty, and almost provoking, and accompanied by a fun, Latin-inspired beat make for a great party song. It ends with an instrumental that brings me back to the mysterious vibes that opened the album.

The next song is a fan favorite, but not quite my cup of tea. In “Memories,” Urie sings of his longing for a time in the past, and the perils of being unable to grasp it while following the narrative of a young couple falling apart. The beat is dynamic and driven by rocking guitars and violin, with a powerful solo and a soft-but-tense bridge. However, it all seems quite flat to me. The transition from the fourth track to “Trade Mistakes” is smooth and well done, with the fifth track coming in with sweeping violins. I love the light and almost fairy-like verses of this song, but the chorus does nothing for me. The lyrics in the chorus are clever, however, with Urie belting “If I could trade mistakes for sheep, count me away before you sleep.” “Memories” and “Trade Mistakes” are a nice cool down after the energetic songs before them, but they leave me unsatisfied and ready for the action to build again.

“Ready to Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)” sounds like new hope to me. Whether it’s hope for life in general or hope for what the album still has to offer, I don’t know. But if this song is anything to base the rest of the album on, I know I’m in for good things. The instrumental opening sounds like something to have blaring from my car’s speakers in the summertime, windows down, and a smiling face in the passenger seat. However, when Urie’s smooth vocals are introduced with the discreet bass line, that sunshiney summer day transitions to a neon metropolis at night–a different vibe containing the same magic. This song definitely follows the Panic! version of pop with an extremely simple chorus, but I don’t mind, for the instrumentals make up for it. Especially with the chiming decrescendo in the bridge and those ever-present strings. “Ready To Go” gets me, well, ready to go on with the dynamic album.

“Always” is not what I expected after the previous track, but what’s not to like about the charming love tune? It’s a cute song and I can’t help singing along. “When the world gets too heavy put it on my back, I’ll be your levy.” The instrumentals are artful, with acoustic guitar and a simple-yet-important drum beat continuously building into something more. That something more includes an obligatory violin, soft brass, and lyrics that grow less cute and more melancholy up until the end.

“The Calendar” is along the lines of “Memories” lyrically. Urie seems to be singing about the collapse, or at least the faltering, of a romantic relationship. For some reason, perhaps the heavy use of floor toms in the drum beat, this song reminds me of a jungle. It’s almost like an ominous presence is in the groovy, upbeat song. Then the lyrics are back to being witty and it almost sounds provoking. “The Calendar” is a great mix of light and dark moods. At the end of the song we’re visited once again by an instrumental interlude, sounding like a jazzy detective movie soundtrack. I may be guilty of having some personal bias towards track nine, otherwise known as “Sarah Smiles,” purely because I share the same name as the girl it was written for. In this piece, we’re revisited by the previously used Latin inspiration and it sounds like a full Mariachi band is playing along with the upbeat polka-y love song. The verse is bumpy and a nice contrast to the smooth chorus, but the best part of the song is the bridge. It’s filled with passionate and desperate vocals as it builds up to a stop, a beautiful acapella line “Sarah smiles like Sarah doesn’t care.” Urie’s voice is so powerful and pure and perfectly showcased during that moment due to the lack of any instrumental accompaniment.

The first time I heard “Nearly Witches” I think my soul left my body and I probably started a whole new phase of existence. The moment the song starts, I know it’s going to be something special. The sample of a teacher conducting her students to sing in French is unique and a soft contrast to the beginning guitar riff–a staccato, dancey beat. The lyrics of the verse make no sense, maybe because it was partially written by ex-lyricist Ryan Ross, or maybe just because it’s a Panic! At The Disco song. It builds to a chorus that hits me like a brick: “Ever since we met, I only shoot up with your perfume. It’s the only thing that makes me feel as good as you do.” It’s big, it’s grand, it’s dramatic, and it’s glorious. But quickly it’s gone and the song falls into a verse or a bridge. Whatever it is, it’s cool and weird. A vocal impression of that dancey guitar riff that’s ever-present in the masterpiece. After a few more choruses, the song falls into a nod towards the first track, “The Ballad Of Mona Lisa” with a chorus singing “Mona Lisa, pleased to meet ya” and the album ends with a cinematic decrescendo, leaving me with the impression that I’ve just completed some epic journey. Maybe that’s how Brendon Urie and his only fellow member Spencer Smith felt, too.

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