Vices & Virtues is the third studio album by American rock band Panic! at the Disco, released on March 22, 2011 on Fueled by Ramen. Produced by John Feldmann and Butch Walker, the album was recorded as a duo by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith, following the departure of primary lyricist and guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker in July 2009.
While Walker and Ross' exit left a hole in the Panic! songwriting regime, the experience became the catalyst for Urie finding his own voice and the confidence to take over as the band's principal songsmith. The lyrics touch on themes of manipulation and confusion. Vices & Virtues took over two years to create, and the increased time in the studio brought forth new musical experimentation.
Upon release, the album received generally mixed to positive reviews. Critics praised the album's wide variety of musical stylings, while citing compositional simplicity and Urie's verbose lyricism as detractors. Preceded by lead single, "The Ballad of Mona Lisa", the album debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 selling 56,000 copies within its first week.
A lot has changed since Panic! at the Disco’s debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, tumbled into record stores in 2005. The term emo has transitioned from a critic-hated rock sub-genre involving heartbroken groups such as Jimmy Eat World and Weezer, evolving to become an easily identifiable stereotype featured on Coronation Street. Amid a tabloid-incited moral panic, emo’s two front-runners became global success stories: My Chemical Romance, with their Black Parade shaking stadiums, and Panic!, who headlined the Other Stage at Glastonbury in 2008.
Twelve months later, though, they were reduced to the duo of singer/multi-instrumentalist Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith, following the departure of guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker. Ross surmised the musical differences thus: "Brendon's more of a Peter Gabriel fan, and I'm more of a Ray Davies fan."
But departures appear to be something this band thrives upon. 2008’s Pretty. Odd. saw them switch off the neon-glow of Fever… for rustic acoustic vibes courtesy of writing sessions at Topanga Canyon. And album three finds Panic! riding their crazy horse back to the Duran Duran-ish land of their two-million-selling debut, revealing how much they always had in common with fellow Las Vegans, The Killers.
However, synthesisers don’t dominate so much as wrestle with a cavalcade of tender strings and high-octane riffs. From the opening chimes of The Ballad of Mona Lisa to the a-ha-tinged strings of Memories, Vices & Virtues is a breath-taking voyage, which ends in the brilliantly bonkers baroque stomp of Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met...). Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind) is a summer anthem in waiting, featuring a glorious breakdown where a simmering synth shimmers away akin to The Who’s Teenage Wasteland before erupting, not unlike The Temper Trap channelling U2. Elsewhere, Foo Fighters choruses jostle beside an almost Bowie-like appetite for the entire smorgasbord of pop sounds.
Over-emoted lines like "I could forgive the way her tears taste" are forgivable because Vices & Virtues marks a bravely adroit leap for the remaining members of Panic! at the Disco. If MCR and Panic!’s arrival signalled a changing of the rock’n’roll guard, then this outfit’s splintering has sledge-hammered a new benchmark in the genre’s history. Seemingly, emo is no longer a moody sub-culture, as one can’t help but smile when a record is this brilliantly bombastic. User Comments