Death of a Bachelor is maybe the best Panic! at the Disco album. It is definitely at the top of my list, at least, and I am still trying to pin down exactly why. There is something about it that none of their albums have had for me since 2005, a magnetic pull that defies explanation. I think – what I have settled on so far – is that it is A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out for grown-ups, or people who think they’re grown-ups, or people who want to be grown-ups. For me.
Fever was what I needed when I was fourteen and bleak, neverbeenkissed cutting my eyes across a high school auditorium at a boy who broke my heart three years later, and I still think I’ve got more wit a better kiss a hotter touch a better fuck is the sexiest thing but it’s not what I need anymore. I still love it and I always will, but it’s not a mirror the way it used to be; I have moved further through the funhouse and now it is a reflection of a reflection, a shade of my younger self.
Lush is the best word, I think, to describe the difference – Fever had this urgency, this heat, this darkness, and Death of a Bachelor has these things too, but so lushly. It is bigger, softer, more alive, it is rich dark earth in which many things have decayed so that new things might grow. It is nightshade plants blooming beneath a velvet sky. The almost orchestral quality of this album, the harmonies, the horns, the vast spiralingness of it all – it is melancholy. But it is melancholy in a way that makes me indefinably happy, in a way that suggests that getting older isn’t a bad thing. It is growth, real growth, and it is beautiful. This is Brendon Urie’s first album on his own, without any of the other original members of Panic!, and it feels like it.
Death of a Bachelor opens with “Victorious”, a love song to success on your own terms – about defining success as what you have achieved rather than what you strive for. Brendon Urie described it as “giving ’em hell to get a taste of heaven”. You don’t have to win to be a winner; you don’t have to knock the other guy out to feel victorious. This is a song about the stupid wild nights of your life that you feel alive, drunk running down the middle of the street with a sparkler, proud of yourself for the simple fact of your survival. As I get older I have fewer of these nights, but I feel like I have more of them metaphorically, if that makes sense. There’s a part in the video where he doesn’t call his ex and they give him one of those gigantic novelty checks; there’s another scene where he walks an old lady across the street and gets the keys to the city. Your victories are what you decide they are – when you celebrate something, it’s an achievement. I drive work listening to “Victorious” and I’m like hell yeah I got out of bed, hell yeah I’m driving the heck out of this little red Hyundai. You take your wins where you get them, but you get to decide where you get them.
“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time” starts with a sample of “Rock Lobster”, which is my favorite fact of 2016 so far. It’s driving and ominous and sexy – Urie does menace well. This is the morning after, pounding hangover and hazy memory, but there’s not a trace of regret in it. Sayin’ “if you go out you might pass out in a drainpipe” / oh yeah? Don’t threaten me with a good time, and that’s really all there is to it. Raise hell and turn it up.
(We talked about “Hallelujah” when it was released.)
The first time on the album that we really see Brendon coming to terms with essentially being Panic! at the Disco now is “Emperor’s New Clothes”, and what a time it is. Welcome to the end of eras he lilts, an assertion of his power, of his rightness. If it feels good, tastes good, it must be mine. It is a very vulnerable song for containing the line I’m taking back the crown, for being essentially a declaration of independence. I’m all dressed up and naked is the crux, the fear – here I am as Brendon Urie as Panic! at the Disco as a new and singular entity, take it or leave it (but please take it). The video starts at the end of “This is Gospel”, which is important – if you love me let me go.
“Death of a Bachelor” makes me want to peel off all my skin, in the best way possible. Like, we know Brendon Urie has a great voice, we’re all aware of this. And yet somehow I forgot? Or I didn’t really know, or something? It doesn’t matter – the point is this. “Death of a Bachelor” is an incredible ballad, a sweeping Sinatra-esque song that has just enough of a dubsteppy vibe to keep it interesting. And that voice! His fucking voice! There was a Chuck Klosterman essay once that was like, I don’t remember what the Would You Rather question was precisely but one of the choices was “Everything you hear for the rest of your life will sound like the lead singer of Alice in Chains”, and it was still better than the alternative, I think, if I recall, but what I am saying here is that if I could only hear one voice ever again it might very well be Brendon Urie’s. This is also a really beautiful song about love and what you give up for it, the way it changes you, the way it makes you better and worse and different and utterly the same. The lace in your dress tangles my neck / how do I live? / the death of a bachelor, but then – how could I ask for more? / a lifetime of laughter / at the expense of the death of a bachelor.
There’s a lot of fun wordplay going on in “Crazy=Genius”, but the really important thing about this album’s “These Tables are Numbered” (it is, trust me on this) is that it is about Brendon Urie’s imaginary girlfriend telling him that you’re just like Mike Love but you wanna be Brian Wilson / said you’re just like Mike Love but you’ll never be Brian Wilson. No matter where it comes from, it’s something that you either have or you don’t. You can’t make yourself a Brian Wilson. You can set yourself on fire / but you’re never gonna burn, burn, burn.
“LA Devotee” is currently my favorite song off the album, although I do reserve the right to fall more in love with something else. It is so sly and cruel and perfect; it yanks you off your feet into the passenger seat of a Mustang convertible, watching the lights flash past in the middle of the hot dark night. This is the only song I’ve ever heard about LA that makes me want to move there, makes me want to be a girl in a swimming pool under the desert sky, makes me want a life so fast I feel like there’s never time even while I’m standing still. It’s got a very retro feel, sort of sock-hoppy in the way it uh-ohs, that simple drumbeat that I know there’s a name for, the horns! It’s almost Britpoppy, the way it bounces forward. It is maybe a perfect song, and the phrase the black magic on Mulholland Drive isn’t not an entire lifestyle waiting to happen.
Oh don’t you wonder when the light begins to fade? And the clock just makes the colors turn to grey? Nothing stays, not even your memories, and here again we see Brendon negotiating the idea of moving forward into the future, moving by definition away from the past. “Golden Days” is a promise not to forget even while it admits that remembering is impossible. Forever young but growing older just the same, as he looks at a Polaroid – you are young in your photos, your memories, and that is a reality but so is the reality of your physical body aging. You are forever twenty, tan, sipping champagne on a yacht inside a tiny flat square (shake it til you see it), and you are thirty, sitting in a record shop looking at a picture of yourself, you are always becoming something different but you are always the same. These things can exist simultaneously if you are strong enough to let them. Let the love remain and I swear that I’ll always paint you / golden days.
“The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” is mostly just fun to listen to, a door-slamming fight song in its most literal sense. If you wanna start a fight you better throw the first punch / make it a good one. Like, this is a fact – if you want to start the fight you have to… start the fight. But in this aggressive cadence it has more meaning somehow, more threat, more swagger. Come at me with everything you’ve got – if you wanna make it through the night you better say my name. All of the good girls act so good til one of them doesn’t wait their turn and you’re nodding yes, yes, ready to swing. I’m gonna keep getting underneath you is this album’s more wit a better kiss and it is just as sexy, just as dangerous. Even here, as in-your-face as it gets, there is melancholy – truth is that it was always going to end.
The album winds to a close with two really stunning slow songs. “House of Memories” is this grand, gothic number, a love song in sweeping minor chords, a love song that is about being alone. If you’re a lover, you should know / the lonely moments just get lonelier / the longer you’re in love / than if you were alone. There is the large formless ache of loneliness that comes from missing no one in particular, and there is the sharp twisting knife of loneliness that comes from missing your other half. Heart to heart and eyes to eyes / baby we built this house on memories. Memory isn’t a strong foundation; it’s mutable and fickle, and it’s certainly not permanent. But that’s all Urie wants here, a place in your house of memories. Put me on a shelf, as long as I can stay there; don’t forget me. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all but it is also harder. Take my picture now, shake it til you see it.
“Impossible Year” is almost cruel in its accuracy, its visceral realness. What a note to end an album on; what a way to make an entrance out of an exit. There’s never air to breathe / there’s never in-betweens / these nightmares always hang on past the dream. This, then, is what Death of a Bachelor is about, underneath it all, twining through it like blood in water. Loss, the kind that leaves you alone and breathless and waiting for the punchline only to realize that there is none. Urie can swagger and posture all he wants and we know he will be okay in the way that all of us will be okay, but that doesn’t mean it is easy and it doesn’t mean it will be the same.
Panic! at the Disco has become something entirely new and yet it is haunted by the ghost of what it was, and Brendon Urie lives with those ghosts every day. This album is his re-introduction to the world, his soul laid bare before the eyes of everyone who watched this band disintegrate over the past ten years. It is not an apology, but it is an acknowledgement of the part he’s played. There is bravado and vindication and bleeding rawness, and the brilliance of this album comes from letting all of them exist together. It is a very painful kind of growth, the cracking-open kind, the kind that leads to beauty and greatness and nothing but sky. It is the death of a bachelor, the birth of something new and incredible. It is lonelier and more in love than ever before.