Panic! At The Disco is a band that means a variety of things to a variety of people. Their name has been around for over fifteen years at this point and they’ve had quite an interesting history, with various lineup changes and six studio albums, all with completely different themes and sounds. Originally, the band consisted of Ryan Ross as their primary lyricist and guitarist, Brendon Urie on lead vocals, Spencer Smith on drums and Brent Wilson on bass. But this lineup didn’t last long, with Wilson being fired from the band during the recording or their debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and replaced with Jon Walker, who remained their bassist until his departure in 2009. This is actually a common theme we’ll begin to see once we get further into the band’s history. Fever was released in September of 2005 while the boys were just finishing up high school, and was slow to gain any traction, but once it did, there was no stopping the group. They garnered a radio hit with “I Write Sins No Tragedies” and the album even peaked at number four on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart. After the success of their debut, with their next record the band decided to do what any other band would have done: they drastically changed their sound (I hope you can sense the sarcasm here). Their 2008 sophomore effort, Pretty. Odd., was exactly just that. This record completely ditched the densely layered alternative rock sound they had started out with and opted for a folk rock, Beatles inspired record instead. It peaked at number two on the US Billboard 200 and UK Albums charts and remains known as one of the boldest and best executed stylistic changes in music history. However, this sense of accomplishment didn’t last very long because just a year later in 2009, Ryan Ross and Jon Walker deiced to depart from the group due to creative differences, and the fate of the band remained uncertain for a while.
In 2011, now a two piece with just Brendon Urie and Spencer Smth, the group returned with their third studio album, Vices & Virtues, with a few touring musicians including the one and only, Dallon Weekes. The album was rather successful; it charted well and received positive reviews, along with singles that are fan favorites to this day. Vices & Virtues served as a new starting point for the group but this fresh start didn’t mean their seemingly unstable relationships were left behind. With their 2013 release, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!, Dallon Weekes was induced as an official member of the band to many fans’ excitement. While we though P.O. was a complete U-turn from Fever, Too Weird did essentially the same thing after V&V. This album was centered around electronic rock and featured Weekes as an essential songwriter, with Spencer Smith nonexistent in the lyrical credits. Nonetheless, the album charted on the Billboard 200 for 108 weeks, which is an unthinkable amount for a band that had such humble beginnings. But again, this sense of accomplishment didn’t last very long when before starting a tour for Too Weird, Smith announced he would not be joining the tour and officially left the band a little over a year later. To make matters even stranger, during the inception of the fifth studio album to be released under the name “Panic! At The Disco”, Dallon Weekes was demoted to a touring member once again, and Brendon Urie was listed as the sole member of the group. Weekes left the group in late 2017 not too long after the release of Death Of A Bachelor in 2016, and in 2018, Pray For The Wicked was released as the second solo project by Urie under the Panic! name.
Now, I didn’t mean for this article to be very long but with a band that’s gone through this many changes in such a short history, it’s important to understand the personnel behind each project and how they’ve evolved through each sound. And what’s interesting about this group is that even though all six studio albums collectively say the name “Panic! At The Disco” on them, the bands fanbase is anything but. I’ve noticed a definitive divide between newer fans who initially began listening during the rise of “High Hopes” and fans who have been around since Fever or Pretty. Odd., and many times I’ve noticed that these two groups do not mesh well. I’ve come across many different Panic! rankings before and each one is rather cohesive depending on when they started listening to the band. With that being said, I’ve been following this group for a very long time now, and my opinions will definitely differ from many others. Regardless, I went into writing this article as objectively and respectfully as possible, because the last thing I want to do is try to be too much of a critic and bash other peoples favorite music. Keep in mind. if you don’t agree with my rankings, that’s completely fine; at the end of the day it’s just an opinion.
#6. Pray For The Wicked / Released June 22, 2018
I’m sure many newer Panic! fans will be salty at me for ranking this album last, but in retrospect, this one is a bloated mess of an album in comparison to the rest of the discography. Sure, it’s catchy as heck and I can’t deny I’ve listened to my fair share of “High Hopes” on repeat when it first came out, but once the glossy pop sheen on these songs starts to wear away, we’re not left with much. Most of these songs come off as either overproduced or underproduced, never seeming to find a decent balance between any of the embellishments on the tracks. “Roaring 20’s”, “One Of The Drunks” and “The Overpass” stick out as being some of the most uncomfortably dense moments on the entire record, while something like “King Of The Clouds”, which remains my favorite song, feels unfinished despite five songwriters and three producers. Actually, on that note, another spot where this record is a complete blunder is in the lyrical department. “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” had six people help write it and nobody could think of a better way to write “and if you lose, boo-hoo”, while “Say Amen” had FIFTEEN writers and no significant lyrical highlights. The thing is, this wouldn’t have been a bad record if it was just marked appropriately as a Brendon Urie solo project. But the problem lies in the fact that this is still considered a Panic! At The Disco record and just doesn’t hold up well artistically, nor does it have the longevity when comparing it to everything else.
#5. Death Of A Bachelor / Released January 15, 2016
Brendon Urie’s first solo project under the name Panic! At The Disco is an album that I play tug of war with. This is one that I have mixed feelings towards because it feels like a finished body of work yet something about it only seems half as good. Where some songs excel in lyrics and instrumentals, creating wonderful imagery along with fun musical moments, other songs become rather unpoetic and forgettable. “Golden Days” and “House Of Memories” easily became some of my favorites while “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time”, “Hallelujah” and “Victorious” are catchy with wonderful music backing but lackluster lyrics. It’s also a record that’s hard to get a grip on and doesn’t seem to have the theme well thought out, because there are also plenty of moments where we see Urie expressing personal growth and then other moments about how he got too drunk and partied too hard. This one has the charisma but it’s missing the heart and something about it to me comes off as a little fabricated at times. It’s also the least cohesive album on our list, and as sonically entertaining as it is, it’s hard to follow at times and doesn’t have many well defined aspects when it comes to themes or instrumental.
#4. Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! / Released October 8, 2013
This record was the first with Dallon Weekes as an official member and boy, was it a good choice to let him creatively contribute to the band. This was a rather solid electropop album which took a completely different tone from their material on Vices & Virtues, and contains some of the bands best material to this day, from the fan favorite “This Is Gospel” and the electrifying “Far Too Young To Die”. “Vegas Lights” has always been a standout on the record along with the lead single “Miss Jackson” and “Girls/ Girls/ Boys”. All of these songs take on a life of their own with incredible lyrical delivery and such fun effects. The overall execution is well done; I can’t complain that any song sounds out of place because they all fit together perfectly. But where I do have a small complaint is that this one only seems to skim the surface of the electronic genre and at times it feels like some songs like “Girl That You Love” and “Collar Full” just don’t dive deep enough into it. I also wish that there were more songs because even though each track feels finished on its own, once the record ends it leaves me expecting a little more.
#3. Vices & Virtues / Released March 18, 2011
What I really like about Vices & Virtues is that you can hear the distinct effort put forth into making this a worthwhile record and into keeping the band afloat after the departure of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. This entire track list just reminds me of a storybook from the lyrics to the rock instrumental to their outfits during this era. This album seemed like a more polished version of their debut, with songs that are just as energetic and crazy but more defined and less dense. Each song has different attributes to it such as the almost alien feeling “Let’s Kill Tonight” or the European sounding “Hurricane”, and even songs like “Trade Mistakes”, “Sarah Smiles” and “Memories” feel so impossible to pin down at times all while being incredibly infectious and listenable. Even with just ten songs to work with on the standard edition, this record is exciting song in and song out, and is especially surprising from a band that I’m sure most people thought were done for at this point.
#2. A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out / Released September 27, 2005
Probably one of the craziest debut records to ever exist, Panic! At The Disco burst onto the emo scene with this record and nothing was the same since. Fever doesn’t just provide listeners with a few melancholy tracks infused with pop punk hooks. The project takes on an entire life of its own, creating this eccentric world where we hear mixes of baroque pop, punk, electronic, and alternative rock, and somehow managing to make it sound good. It’s incredibly lively with songs such as “But It’s Better If You Do”, “Camisado” and “Time To Dance”, but also very pleasant sounding with violins in “Build God, Then We’ll Talk” or an orchestral feel on “I Constantly Thank God For Esteban”. With Ryan Ross’ densely packed songwriting (he wrote the entire thing himself as a teenager, by the way) and ability to make any situation sound pleasant, this record is sonically a wild, yet very well organized ride. Following the theatrical theme present throughout the entire duration, the record is actually split into two parts with two distinct feels, including an introduction and intermission. Besides the band going in a completely different creative direction than other bands at the time, they were also still teenagers and managed to execute the theme of this record seamlessly, making it look so easy without appearing immature or corny.
#1. Pretty. Odd. / Released March 21, 2008
This band’s debut was polarizing enough so of course with their second effort, they want to confuse everyone even more. For a group to completely change their sound after being rather successful with what they began with is unheard of, but for them to actually be accepted for their new sound is almost just as ridiculous. How did they even manage to do that? Well, I think it lies in what made their debut so solid. Pretty. Odd. was another record that took some getting used to but once you actually tried to understand it, it actually makes a lot of sense. The folky theme is perfectly balanced and so alluring, while still staying true to good pop hooks and melodies. So many of these songs quickly became fan favorites and are still fan favorites to this day (hello, “Northern Downpour”), possibly because this just feels so down to earth and very normal. This record feels very attainable to the average listener despite it being very intricately produced, and that was one thing that made this band so remarkable during their first two records. There are plenty of sing along moments on the singles “That Green Gentleman” and “Nine In The Afternoon” which stuck with the listener long after it played, and lyrics written in such an ambiguous way that you can apply almost any meaning to them. Songs like “Behind The Sea” and “Mad As Rabbits” feel like an all too real dream, and the record flows smoothly from one song to the next without ever sounding too repetitive or out of place. On top of that, this project also feels like a full band effort where we see all of the members contributing to the lyrics, vocals and overall creative direction. When I think of this album, I think about what a band ideally is, and maybe one day the original lineup will come together once again to create another well rounded concept album like this. Until then, I’ll be listening to “Northern Downpour” on repeat while crying myself to sleep.