Fever was a hugely ambitious project, blending guitars with electronic dance music and Vaudevillian piano and strings. It was thanks to this revolutionary sound, and the band’s theatricality – not to mention their associations with the Fueled By Ramen family – that they quickly built a feverish fan base, going from being opening acts to arena tour headliners in just one year. The band’s boyband good looks no doubt had something to do with their success as well, and their propensity for the dramatic and their commitment to a particular aesthetic helped them become idols to an entire generation of rock fans.
Although things were going monumentally well, there was tension behind the scenes, and Brent Wilson was unceremoniously fired from the band in 2006 and replaced by Jon Walker. Having created an extraordinary sound with their debut album, the band went back to basics for its followup Pretty. Odd. (2008) even going as far as to drop the iconic exclamation point from their name. The album was a huge success, but the band were at a creative impasse, with Urie and Ross wanting to take the band in opposing directions, this accumulated with Ross and Walker leaving the band to form The Young Veins.
Each album campaign following this, Vices and Virtues (2011), Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! (2013) and Death of a Bachelor (2016) saw members of the band dropping like flies, eventually leaving Brendon Urie as the band’s only official member. Luckily for fans, Urie is the absolute heart of the project, and there truly could be no Panic! without him. Not only is he the creative genius behind the band, but his unmistakable vocals form the core of everything they released. Urie is just as comfortable belting out sharply spat lyrics as he is reaching falsetto notes that most singers can only dream of. Truly a rare talent.
As you can see, the history of Panic!is a tumultuous one, but luckily this has never stifled Brendon Urie’s huge creativity, allowing him to create an outstanding discography.
# 10 – Time to Dance
In many ways A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is a concept album, as it is split into two distinct parts, with the first half incorporating electronic and dance elements, and the second part introducing classic and Vaudevillian instruments. As the title suggests, “Time to Dance,” is very much part of the album’s first half, featuring a simple synth riff which is light, pleasant and sounds almost like something you’d hear from a windup children’s toy. This contrasts beautifully with the song’s frantic jittery drums, harsh guitar riffs and dark lyrical content.
Much of Fever is inspired by the work of novelist Chuck Palahniuk, and indeed, Time to Dance is almost entirely inspired by his novel Invisible Monsters, with many of the lyrics taken straight from the book. There can be no doubt that obtuse references like this were part of what made the band popular, allowing teens to live our their pseudo-intellectual fantasies by using the band’s lyrics in their AOL Instant Messenger away messages and Myspace biographies. Still, even if we look back and cringe at this now, there can be no doubt that the music has held up incredibly well, and it was genuinely brave of the band to incorporate synth into their music when it wasn’t trendy to do so.
As ever, Urie’s vocal work is incredibly solid, delivering every line with conviction and power. His use of digital effects to enhance his voice during the end of the song’s first chorus is simply wonderful, and the way it slowly blends into the song’s drum beat is absolutely genius.
It would be very easy to fill this entire list with tracks from Fever, but, for variety’s sake, it will focus on just the highlights of the album, of which “Time to Dance,” is truly an underrated cut.
# 9 – This Is Gospel
The second single from Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die (2013)begins with a heartbeat-like drum beat that is soon joined by Urie’s vocals, overlaid with numerous distorted and auto tuned effects. The heartbeat like introduction is an appropriate way to begin a track which has a deeply personal background. “This Is Gospel,” was inspired by the feelings of helpfulness and anger which Urie experienced after his childhood friend, Spencer Smith, was forced to leave the band due to his battle with alcoholism and drug addiction.
The tragic circumstances which inspired the song are perfectly reflected during the song’s chorus, in which Urie sounds simultaneously heartbroken and euphoric – perhaps due to hysteria – as he is unable to help, and must watch his friend fight his demons on his own. The song also features numerous Bible references, a nod to Urie’s strict Mormon upbringing.
Despite the song’s dark background, it’s an oddly uplifting track. This is thanks to Urie’s soaring vocals and the catchy sing along background elements – it is as if Urie has imbued the song with all of his hopes that Smith will be able to beat his addiction. Though not one of the band’s most famous tracks, “This Is Gospel,”is a bittersweet Panic! essential.
# 8 – London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines
This hectic and manic album track from Fever sees the band address their critics and gives listeners a taste of the pressure to succeed which they were put under. Thanks to Pete Wentz’s efforts to create hype for the band, as well as burgeoning social media sites (primarily Livejournal and Myspace) allowing international fandom to easily mobilize for the first time, there was huge excitement surrounding the band’s debut. Of course, with any success comes backlash, and many were willing the band to fail before they’d even left the starting gates.
Clearly the writers – Urie, Smith, and Ross – were aware of the frenzy surrounding them, and used it to inspire this track. With hammering drums and thrashing guitar riffs, the song leans towards the heavier side of Panic!’s oeuvre, perhaps representing the immense and unstoppable need for the band to live up to the hype. Of course, as with most of the songs on Fever, the track features some untraditional elements, in this case, an odd and distorted industrial-influenced drum breakdown. In addition to this, there is a recurring old-fashioned revue-style piano-lead pre-chorus in which the band state they simply don’t care what their critics have to say and will carry on regardless.
The non-traditional elements present on the album were surely a conscious attempt to be different from other rock bands out there, allowing Panic! to stand out from the crowd and showcase their trailblazing and subversive sound. London… is a perfect example of this, and also let the band underline their indifference to the naysayers. Few rock bands can truly be described as avant-garde, but Panic! At the Disco is one of them.
# 7 – Death of a Bachelor
Some of the fans the band gained from their debut were disappointed with the more straight forward sound the band introduced in its follow-up, eventually losing interest in Panic! and dismissing any future releases as lacking the glorious weirdness and experimentation of Fever. “Death of a Bachelor,” the title track from the band’s 2016 album, serves as a perfect example of how these haters are entirely wrong, representing perhaps one the band’s most inventive songs ever.
The vocal stylings of the track are undoubtedly influenced by Frank Sinatra, who Urie has stated was a huge part of his childhood; however, the classic swing and lounge influences (including strings and trumpets) are placed alongside some ultra-modern musical elements. The R&B bass-heavy beat which underlines the track could be a straight sample from Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love,” and this is soon complimented with an EDM-inspired triple-time trap beat. That he would have the audacity to combine such contrasting musical elements in one track (and to great effect, no less) should tell you that Urie has lost none of his creativity and bravado over time.
Lyrically the song concerns itself with Urie’s marriage, and how he has happily put aside the perks of a bachelor lifestyle to make way for a shared life with his new wife. There is a definitive bittersweet vibe to the song, which clearly marks the end of a huge era of Brendon’s life, and the Sinatra-style wistfulness was the perfect choice to represent this. “Death of a Bachelor,” does not contain a single guitar note, and this, along with the genuinely unique combination of sounds, makes it a modern-day Panic! oddity that you can’t afford to ignore.
# 6 – But It’s Better If You Do
This song comes just after the Intermission on Fever, and as such it introduces the listener to the album’s second part, which is more stripped back and focuses on a Victorian-inspired 1900’s sound. The track follows a young man on what seems to be his first trip to a burlesque club, and it’s not long before he realizes that he’d rather be anywhere else.
As you’d expect, the music is perfectly suited to the song’s setting, full of keyboard and piano riffs. Indeed, it is an uptempo jazz piano riff which is at the heart of the song, more so than any guitars, which – perfect for the songs Victorian and steampunk vibe – grind ominously in the background. Along with guitars, the chorus features keyboard riffs which feel somehow grimy, showing how Panic! really are masters of using instrumentals to create atmosphere and tell a story.
The song’s bridge is made up of a creepy circus-style ditty, which is quickly interrupted by some urgent guitars and military like-drums. This takes the song to its crescendo, in which Urie belts out the chorus, capturing the confusion of contradictory emotions experienced by the song’s protagonist.
As the album’s first taste of its second chief sound, “But It’s Better If You Do,” is a catchy and evocative way to introduce listeners to something they genuinely may never have heard before.
# 5 – Emperor’s New Clothes
The third single from Death of a Bachelor (2016) is a frenzied song with two killer hooks to its name. The first is a pitch-shifted and distorted line, impossible to decipher, which introduces the song and recurs throughout. The second is a high pitched, almost falsetto, nursery rhyme-inspired earworm which plays between lines during the chorus – perfect for audience participation.
The nursery rhyme vibe helps create the song’s slightly creepy atmosphere, which comes to a head during the song’s choral bridge, in which Urie’s voice is layered innumerable times, making it sound like something from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. This creepy but fun feeling ties into the song’s lyrics, which, along with referencing the well-known Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name, are a wink to Brendon being the band’s only active member; he’s finally fully in charge of what is rightfully his. This is also humorously referenced in the song’s video, in which the singer is transformed into a power-mad demon.
This screamer of a track is effortlessly catchy and atmospheric, fizzing with classic Panic! elements like falsetto and brass instruments. As with much of the band’s work, “Emperor’s New Clothes,” is wonderfully cinematic, hugely evocative and unapologetically tinged with darkness. It’s impossible to listen to this theatrical track and not feel something.
# 4 – Miss Jackson
This first single from the band’s fourth album Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! (2013) was inspired by an iconic line from Janet Jackson’s song Nasty, and its lyrics refer to Urie’s womanizing past. This is one of few Panic! tracks which features a guest vocalist, and, though not really necessary, Lolo’s pleasant vocals provide a great foil to Brendon’s more masculine and robust voice.
For a Panic! At the Disco track, Miss Jackson is rather restrained, especially compared to the other songs on this list. It doesn’t feature any of the band’s trademark bluster or non-traditional elements and plays like a rather straight pop-rock song. In fact, the track actually sounds remarkably similar to the stuff which post-comeback Fall Out Boy were releasing at around the same time, with anthemic vocal chants, and repetitive choruses. Luckily, rather than sounding derivative and unoriginal, there’s something quite nice about the two bands, who have always been intrinsically linked, reaching a sonic similarity. Indeed, rather than serving as a diluted version of the band, Miss Jackson feels like a breath of fresh air (it helps that it’s a very summery song) giving the band the chance to briefly drop the band’s esoteric elements and just deliver a fun, catchy rock song. It may not be seen as classic Panic! but Miss Jackson thoroughly deserves its place on this list.
# 3 – Nine in the Afternoon
Many feared that the band dropping their name’s iconic exclamation point for the second album Pretty. Odd. (2008) might signify an abrupt change in their sound, and these concerns were little comforted by the release of this first single. “Nine in the Afternoon,” is about as far from the songs on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out as you could get. While the band’s previous work was biting, cynical and full of obscure references, Nine in the Afternoon was a un-ironic, genuinely feel-good song.
Sounding like the opening to a happy Broadway musical, this track can really only be described as a pleasant romp. Full of summer-like strings, whimsical bells, and enjoyable guitar riffs, there’s something dreamy and Beatles-esque about this song; it’s baroque rock at its best, full of heart, and really just pleasure to listen to.
There can be no doubt that this was absolutely not what fans of the band wanted from them, but really, isn’t doing a complete U-turn and abandoning their established sound such a Panic! thing to do? Though the fan base was split at the time, with hindsight, it’s pretty clear that this sumptuous track happily fits into the Panic! canon and was an important addition to their discography.
# 2 – I Write Sin’s Not Tragedies
Without a doubt the band’s best-known track, this second single from Fever is a song about infidelity and betrayal, told through a story set at the wedding of a doomed couple. The track begins with a gorgeous harpsichord riff, which is soon joined by Urie’s vocals, however, after the bride’s cheating is revealed, the rock elements kick in. The harsh throbbing guitars and frenetic drums clearly echo the shocking revelation as well as the flood of emotion the groom must be experiencing. Similarly, the brooding instrumental section, full of ominous drums, which occurs between the second verse and chorus is a great aural representation of the growing resentment which must be starting to gnaw at his core. It’s truly wondrous how the band can use their music to display such a vast array of emotions.
As the band’s most well-known track, the song serves as a kind of advert for casual fans, giving them a taste of Panic!’s distinctive sound. …Sins Not Tragedies is the perfect track for this, showcasing the band’s unique blend of classical baroque with high energy pop punk. It also features Urie’s powerful voice at his best, although tragically his falsetto is absent on this song. If you’re going to hear a Panic! track on the radio, it’s quite likely that – even over a decade since its release – it will be this one. For many 00’s teens, this was the soundtrack to their adolescence, and it’s a testament to the song’s true singularity that it still manages to resonate with today’s youth.
# 1 – Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
Once you learn that Ryan Ross found out his girlfriend was cheating on him during the writing of Fever…, a lot of the tracks start to make more sense. Just as with …Sins Not Tragedies, Lying… is about infidelity, but while the former was a theatrical and slightly camp song, this sexually charged track is full of anger and bitterness.
The track is essentially about how the girl has missed out on something good by being unfaithful, so there is a certain smug swagger to the track, with Urie listing everything she will be losing out on. You can practically hear the restrained rage in the singer’s voice as he embodies the raw emotions his band mate brought to the writing process.
Discordant and distorted guitars plague the first half of the second verse, echoing the lyrics, in which Brendon is so consumed by rage and confusion that he momentarily loses his train of thought. The song is full of clever lyrical moments like this, such as how the repeated vocal hook about teen hearts seems to actually echo a heartbeat. Similarly, the emotions Ross must have experienced during his break up are palpable during the song, especially on its manic and jagged guitar – which just happens to be Ross’ instrument.
This coarse, sour, and yet strangely euphoric track perfectly captures a specific moment in music, when it was rock rather than tropical house and EDM that dominated the charts, allowing an emo-tinged theatrical magnum opus such as this to get the attention it deserved.
Panic! have never really managed to top their first album, but when a debut is as confident and genuinely radical as Fever, this is no surprise, and, as this list has shown, much of their later work is still of an extremely high standard. Brendon Urie may be the band’s only remaining member, but it’s fair to assume that, with him, Panic! At the Disco is in the safest of hands.