I find that doing Track by Track posts of Panic! At the Disco albums tend to be the most interesting. Their songs often have hidden meanings, stories you didn’t know, references you didn’t know (especially on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out), that learning those tidbits of information add a new depth to the songs.
Vices & Virtues is Panic! At the Disco’s third studio album, released under Decaydance and Fueled by Ramen in March 2011 (All Time Low, Paramore). The album was released two years after original members Jon Walker and Ryan Ross left the band in 2009 due to “creative differences,” stripping Panic! down to a duo consisting of frontman Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith. Vices & Virtues also marks the return of the exclamation point to the band’s name, which was removed for Pretty. Odd. Each track on this album is meant to be about, as the title alludes, different vices and virtues.
There are several reasons to take note of this particular album. A large reason is because according to critics, Vices & Virtues marks Panic!’s musical comeback after the ill-received Pretty. Odd. Vices & Virtues is also the first album from Panic! to be completely written by Urie, rather than Ross. Lastly, the musicality of Vices & Virtues is unique: an album meant for dancing to, radiating a sense of fun and quirkiness with each track. A variety of different and eccentric sounds, as well as elements from various genres, are audible on Vices & Virtues. The album has a dark tone that is lightened through various little touches, such as the tinkle-y xylophone in “The Ballad of Mona Lisa.” Each song contains a unique musical detail that allows it to stand out. Rolling Stone even credited the band with creating the new genre of “emo retropop.” I could easily state that Vices & Virtues as my second favorite Panic! album (after Death of a Bachelor).
**Check out my favorite review of this album by PopMatters here. The phrasing and language is engaging, fun, and descriptive.
While not officially included on the album, Panic! At the Disco created a short film (released a week before the album) for the “overture” for Vices & Virtues. The video tells a story of sorts about a group of different people who are trying to leave their town, led by Urie and Smith, only to encounter multiple obstacles that force all but the band to go back. The overture includes clips from four tracks on the album.
1. The Ballad of Mona Lisa
From the first time I heard the opening notes, I knew that “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” would be a favorite of mine. Released as a single prior to the album’s release, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” blends together pop punk, “string-laced drama, [and] twinklng xylophone” to create a smasher of a song (IGN). Fun fact about the music video: the dusty top hat seen lying on a pew is the top hat Brendon wore in the video for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” You’ll find a second Easter egg if you pay attention to what time the main clock is set to!
This song is creepy in the best way and has “dracula-esque synths” that add the perfect touch to the track (Garage Music News). “Let’s Kill Tonight” is a song about the fun party times with friends, based on the metaphorical phrase of “killing it”–as Urie and Smith told Hollywire TV, “it’s not about killing someone.”
In “Hurricane,” Urie sings about how he’s trying to decide if this girl, with whom he has a sexually passionate relationship, is worth his time. The vice in this song is recklessness, while also incorporating the virtues of love, passion, and contentment. While this song is lyrically intense, this song comes off musically as playful and sexy.
“Memories” tells the story of a boy and girl who walked away from things that were meaningful to them (the boy his church and religious lifestyle, the girl her family), only for the relationship to crumble despite their careful plans. What’s lyrically interesting about the song is that the verses are written in third person, in contrast to the first person perspective seen in the chorus. The song also references Tennesee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which deals with issues such as sexual assault and alcoholism.
5. Trade Mistakes
The violin opening sets the sad tone of the song, before shifting into the technopunk music that distinguishes Vices & Virtues. Urie’s “most urgent sounding vocals” convey Urie’s deep regret for the mistakes he’s made, and how he would do anything to erase them (Sputnik). One lyric in the opening verse, “But ‘Sentimental Boy’ is my nom de plume,” stuck out to me as I looked at the lyrics. As someone who has recently been binge watching “Gossip Girl,” that moniker made me think of Gossip Girl’s nickname of “Lonely Boy” for the character Dan Humphrey.
6. Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)
“Ready to Go” is a song about taking risks and learning to live in the moment. The theme of the song pairs perfectly with the fast-paced, heartbeat-like tempo of the song to create a sense of excitement and hype within the listener. The music video for this song happens to be a favorite of mine: it shows of Urie’s dancing chops, and references “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Grease”–and the latter two are two of my favorite films!
I have a soft spot for Panic!’s acoustic tracks, and this is by far my favorite acoustic song by them. “Always” is a beautiful yet sad love song, “an enjoyable ballad sans the cheese” (Sputnik). The lyrics of “Always” appear to be inspired by “The Great Gatsby,” as it tells the tale of someone whose head-over-heels love for another is unreturned. On a personal level, I happen to truly enjoy this song and find it extremely calming to listen to. It’s also perfect for those rainy days playlists!
8. The Calendar
I could not quite place what instrument is playing in the opening of this song, but it contributes perfectly to the song. It’s the distinctive musical touch for “The Calendar,” which reminisces on “the intimate relationship we [the band] had with the four of us [Urie, Spencer, Ross and Smith]” (MTV News). As Urie told MTV News, the song began as being about a story about a guy and a girl, until they looked closer at the lyrics and noticed how they “tied into the experience of Ryan and Jon leaving.” I enjoy how this song mixes light and darker tones, keeping it sad while also whimsical. “The Calender” has a hidden musical interlude at the end, done in a way that evokes the sense of being in a jazz bar.
9. Sarah Smiles
Musically, I have to agree with Alternative Press: this song, as well as “Always,” would have fit in perfectly on Pretty. Odd.! “Sarah Smiles” is not only named after Urie’s then-girlfriend (and now wife) Sarah, but was written “to try and impress her”–which clearly worked (SPIN)! The two have been happily married since 2013.
This is the underrated track on this album. While I enjoy it, it seems that many forget about this song. “Nearly Witches” was initially supposed to be on the canceled concept album Cricket and Clover. The musicality of this song is a mix of “funk, Fifties horror-movie kitsch and a children’s choir” (Rolling Stone). The addition of the children’s choir is the song’s distinguishing attribute, and adds a certain nostalgic quality to the song. There are two fun facts about the song’s lyrics: the opening verse, such in French by the children’s choir, translates into the song’s chorus. Additionally, the outro references back to the opening track with the line “Mona Lisa, pleased to meet ya.”
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