Pray for the Wicked: A VinylTap Review

Pray for the Wicked: A VinylTap Review

Introduction:

Panic! At the Disco are veterans of the rock and alternative fields. Founded by lead vocalist, guitarist, and pianist/keyboardist Brendon Urie, lead guitarist, vocalist, and pianist/keyboardist Ryan Ross, drummer Spencer Smith, and bassist Brent Wilson in 2004. In 2005, the band released their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, which features their chart-topping hit “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and gravitated to punk rock sounds. In 2005, Urie took on bassist duties from a diminishing Wilson. In 2006, Brent Wilson departed the band and was replaced by bassist, pianist and guitarist Jon Walker. The band moved more towards a psychedelic rock flavor with their 2008 follow-up, Pretty. Odd. The band argued over whether to stay with the new sound or advance, the disagreement, mainly between Walker and Ross and Urie, leading to the departures of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker to pursue a new act featuring the psychedelic sound. Urie and Smith recruited touring member Dallon Weekes to take on bassist duty and the other responsibilities held by the two men, as Urie gave up bassist duties in 2010. In 2011, the band released their third album, which leaned heavily into pop and alternative themes, Vices and Virtues. In 2013, drummer Spencer Smith became an inactive member as the band released their fourth album To Weird to Live, To Young to Die, their first fully alternative album. In 2015, Spencer officially exited the band and Weekes announced his demotion from being a full member to returning to touring member status, as Brendon Urie took up bassist and drummer duties to become the only member of Panic! At the Disco. In 2016, they released Death of a Bachelor, which landed the band their first Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. In 2017, Weekes exited the band in every facet. In 2018, they released their sixth studio album: Pray for the Wicked.

1. Silver Lining

The album starts with a swinging vibe as the album heralds a new Panic! band under Urie’s complete takeover of the group. The song sings of no love for silver linings to any of his tragedies as he’s now on top. The lyricism is pretty solid and the production is good. For myself, personally, this song isn’t one I’ll revisit extremely often, but it’s a solid start for what promises to be a good album.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

2. Say Amen (Saturday Night)

The main single from the album is an anthem for the weekend. Urie’s vocals are spectacular and the songwriting is on point, with catchy rhymes and some slick references to Urie’s Mormon upbringing. The production is outstanding. This was the no-brainer for their lead single and there’s a reason for it. It’s fantastic.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

3. Hey Look Ma, I Made It

The sleek, synthetic production underscores a well-written song about success. The horns are gorgeous. The story Urie creates is compelling, as he touches on how people want what’s next and how he’s made it in a so-called “garden of evil”. It’s a fun song that is truly infectious. It’s a song that really comes from Urie’s joy, who’s been working for years to reach this point in his career. It’s a upbeat and mellow all at once. It works well, despite somewhat retreading on themes Urie’s covered before.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

4. High Hopes

This is an anthem for the dreamers and is my favorite from the album so far. The horns return in full force for this one as Urie sings about how when he didn’t have money or support, he had hopes and dreams. It’s a fantastic song with an absolutely great vocal performance from Urie, excellent production, and top notch songwriting. This is a Panic! At the Disco classic in the making.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

5. Roaring 20s

As we approach the second Roaring 20’s, Urie decides to capitalize off this with his own take filled with some savvy wordplay. Screechy horns and light pianos introduce a jazz-ridden tune. The vocals are outstanding once again. The songwriting reveals the truth behind Urie’s overjoyed facade of success and shows the nervous performer within. The song’s theatricality is very cool, but overall, it doesn’t quite reach the highest heights it could have.

Rating: 8/10

Track Rating: A-

6. Dancing’s Not A Crime

The song comes out swinging, presenting a summer jam that is simply infectious. Using lots of legal wordplay, Urie creates a fun tune about dancing and partying to drown out disappointment and heartache. It’s well-produced and well-written. It’s a must for your summer playlists.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

7. One of the Drunks

Singing about orange juice early on is a nice twist. Dealing with Urie’s usual partying and alcohol tropes, it feels a little tired and played out, even for Panic! At the Disco. The production is solid, but the songwriting doesn’t quite hold up on its end. Overall, this is the weakest song of the album so far.

Track Rating: 7/10

Grade: B+

8. The Overpass

Urie’s use of jazz for this album is really cool, especially on this song. The upbeat drums mixed with the guitars and brass really works on a production level. The songwriting is also fantastic, as they create a story about painful nostalgia and relapsing into past relationships. It’s a strong song from production to songwriting to performance, and it’s particularly upbeat and fun.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

9. King of the Clouds

Urie layers his vocals in an a cappella open that is soon underscored by funky guitars and drums. The songwriting is pretty good as Urie sings about the feeling of being high, speaking as a recovered nicotine addict. It’s a solid performance form Urie and some really stellar production, but the songwriting doesn’t fully bring it. It’s not a bad song, just not the best of the record.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

10. Old Fashioned

Our penultimate stop on the album is particularly interesting. The unique production is super funky and reggae-influenced. The songwriting focuses on Urie’s past and reminiscing on glory days. The song is really well-written and performed. The production too is very cool and well-done. It’s another fantastic entry from Panic!

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

11. Dying in LA

The album ends on a slower, emotional finale. These songs are extremely rare for Panic! At the Disco, so when the come along, they’re cherished. It’s a slow song, just Urie and a piano, and it’s outstanding. His performance is beautiful and his vocals are just superb. It’s a beautiful ode to LA and dreamers. Utilizing strings, it’s an anthem for the struggling dreamers and it’s one of my favorites from their catalog. It’s a beautiful and poignant finale for their sixth installment.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

While it’s not as energetic as Death of a Bachelor or as slick as To Weird to Live, To Rare to Die, Panic! At the Disco’s latest album, while not their greatest, still manages to land as a solid effort on their part. While some songs are standout, most of the album falls into the general mediocrity compared to previous work. While the first trilogy of albums is Panic! finding their footing, the new trilogy has a clear, distinctive voice and style and it’s infectious. Urie’s complete control of the band benefited the last album, but Urie’s drive to create another record quickly like left him a little stifled creatively and spinning his wheels in classic tropes; while he still managed to deliver a solid album, it’s not groundbreaking or anything particularly phenomenal. Overall, the album lands in the middle of being great and good.

Album Rating: 8.7/10

Grade: B+

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God’s Favorite Customer: A Review

God’s Favorite Customer: A Review

Introduction:

Josh Tillman has had a storied career. His career began in 2008, when he simultaneously launched his solo career as J. Tillman and became the drummer of Fleet Foxes. In 2008, he signed with Fargo Records and released three albums: Cancer and DeleriumLong May You Run, J. Tillman, and I Will Return. The trilogy of releases came just as he started with Fleet Foxes. He switched to In 2009, he released his albums Vacilando Territory Blues and Year in the Kingdom, before retiring the J. Tillman moniker in 2010 with the release of Singing Ax. In 2012, Tillman announced his departure from Fleet Foxes and released his first album under the new moniker of Father John Misty: Fear Fun. He followed that up in 2015 with I Love You, Honeybear. In 2017, he released his album Pure Comedy. He and his wife split up for several weeks and Tillman moved into a hotel, where he began writing new songs and quickly complied a new album, which was release June 1, 2018: God’s Favorite Customer

1. Hangout at the Gallows

The melancholy, smokey vocals echo beautifully in the first track of the record. The poetic lyricism paints a picture of Tillman’s pain after the split. The vocals and arrangement of instruments is very well done. It’s a very poetic and beautiful song and a great start for what’s sure to be a great album.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

2. Mr. Tillman

The acoustic guitars and chimes instantly set up a different song than what we just got. The song is a great story song. Painting a portrait of Tillman checking into the hotel and staying there while working through his grief, which is heavily implied to be substance abuse. The production and songwriting are outstanding. It’s definitely one of the best songs of the year.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

3. Just Dumb Enough to Try

The piano driven ballad gives Tillman a chance to show off his voice. The production here continues to keep up its excellence. Meanwhile, Tillman’s heartbreaking lyricism is strong. Dealing with his conflicted reasoning and desire to keep his wife in his life, Tillman continues to paint a melancholy picture of heartache and loss.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

4. Date Night

The production is much more upbeat as the drums, acoustic guitar, and pianos drive home a happy vibe. Tillman presents a time when he was dating, either flashing back to his first date with his wife, or an attempt to bounce back after the split. My guess would be the former. It’s a well-written tune and well-produced, but not the strongest one on the effort.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

5. Please Don’t Die

Tillman actually details a suicidal depression he was in over the split and pleads with himself, via his wife, to not commit suicide. It’s a haunting song that either shows what caused the split or what he’s feeling as a result of it. Either way, it’s a haunting song that’s very well-written and well-produced. The acoustic guitars and slow, melancholy vibe really build the atmosphere. It’s in contention for my favorite song from the record and for song of the year.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

6. The Palace

The sad pianos are beautiful. The substance abuse implications are confirmed in this song, as well as how long he’s been away from his wife. The song is really gentle and beautiful, as he talks about how much he misses her, so far as to refer to the hotel as “the palace,” which was her nickname for it. It’s very well-crafted lyrically and the productions simple, yet extremely effective. It’s an outstanding song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

7. Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All

The more upbeat and fast-paced song talks about true love and the desire to return to his wife. It’s very well-produced and arranged. The songwriting is solid still. It’s really the production that’s outstanding on this one.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

8. God’s Favorite Customer

The slower, harmonic production (that uses harmonicas and woodwinds) is just stellar. The atmosphere is just outstanding. The story song follows a drugged up and lonely Tillman strung out as he begs for the angels to speak to him. It’s gorgeously produced and the songwriting is meticulous and superb. It’s the climax of the album as he comes to terms with everything he’s been struggling with this record. The additional vocals that emulate the angelic chorus is perfect. This is a masterpiece song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

9. The Songwriter

The melancholy follow-up is very existential and beautiful. The piano driven ballad ponders the idea of what the music would sound like if the roles were reversed, if his wife were the songwriter. It’s tragic as he comes to terms with the separation of him and wife. The vocals are chilling and the production echoes his pain. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful song. It’s another masterpiece song.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

10. We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)

The electric guitars ring out for a final statement as the album concludes with the moral of Tillman’s story. His vocals ring out over the melancholy, introspective music as he ponders human nature. The songwriting is outstanding as he wishes the world well as he says see you later. It’s a perfect finale for this masterpiece album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

This album emulates 70s blues rock while also being completely original. Father John Misty paints a raw, honest portrait of loss, heartache, pain, depression, and hope. It really has a narrative arch as we watch his journey over the few weeks away from his wife. We watch his separation, the beginning of his misery, his desperation for normalcy,  his nostalgic reminiscing of good times, his suicidal slump, his compliance with her wishes, his return to pained wishing, his outcry for love from a higher power, his realization of empathy, and finally, his call for the world to take heed of his words and story and what comes next. It’s a masterpiece of raw emotion and storytelling from a place of hurt and a place of hope. This is easily one of the best albums of the year.

Album Rating: 9.4/10

Grade: A+