There’s only one man panicking at the disco these days, and that’s Brendon Urie. The frontman has gradually shed band members to the extent that since 2016 this has been a solo project, a strong move that has led him to his highest chart positions.
The initial faultline seemed to appear because other bandmates wanted to shift their sound from theatrical emo rock towards whimsical Sixties psychedelia, as demonstrated in 2008 on their second album, which continued their fondness for awkward punctation by being called Pretty. Odd. and confused more than a few fans with its retro styling. Left to his own devices Urie is still looking backwards, but at a different decade. This seventh album is steeped in the classic rock sounds of the Seventies, all bright, colourful riffing, Brian May-esque guitar solos, and even some eye-watering Freddie Mercury high notes on songs such as Something About Maggie and the exhausting closing number, Do It to Death.
By this point, long-term followers will be well used to the more excessive sides of his showman persona. He dared to attempt a one-man cover of Bohemian Rhapsody for the Suicide Squad soundtrack in 2016. He has even appeared on Broadway, taking a lead role in the musical Kinky Boots in 2017. Those who find his overwrought vocals and sonic overabundance irritating would be well advised to stay away from God Killed Rock and Roll, which starts out as an emotional piano ballad before diving into galloping boogie-woogie and a screeching chorus.
However, when he reins it in just a little and influences other than Queen can be identified, it’s hard to resist all the energy he summons. The title track opens with a crunching punk riff reminiscent of The KKK Took My Baby Away by the Ramones. Urie’s rapid vocal delivery on Star Spangled Banger is a clear nod to Steely Dan’s Reelin’ in the Years. “Keep your disco, give me T. Rex,” he sings on Middle of a Breakup. On Sugar Soaker, which keeps things simpler with a guitar part so catchy that you’d swear Tom Petty already thought of it, he asks a woman to “be my ELO”.
If much of it sounds overfamiliar, there’s enough of Urie’s personality here to keep it from pastiche, especially on Local God, which describes his band’s early days. Anyway, sometimes the old ways are still the best.