Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

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Panic at the Disco were never ’emo’. They were never even similar to the bands that people mis-classified as Emo. They had Punk-Pop elements, yes, but they were more experimental and glam than their peers. When Fall Out Boy and Chemical Romance traded the punkish hooks for experimentation, it sounded like a band trying to justify their huge fanbase. When Panic reinvented themselves over and over, it was just something they were made to do.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. Urie stomps and brags over a Hip-Hop backing while forgetting to rap. Fall Out Boy released a very similar song recently too. This is what happens to all successful rock bands. After you’re victorious, selling records and getting groupies what is there to sing about?

Stadium is the logical end of any band that relied on hooks for success. Some bands still pretend they have a serious message to deliver. Others, like Papa Roach, still give us angsty lyrics only with friendly melodies. They make it clear that the bands aren’t struggling, but they hope the songs will help you.

Since Panic never complained much about life, they choose (more correctly, Urie chooses) the hedonistic approach. There are a lot of lyrics about partying, drugs and being a bad motherfucker. The biggest influence on this album isn’t Frank Sinatra. Did Frank display the arrogance Urie shows in “Victorious” or “The Good, The Bad…”? For most of the album, Urie tells people either to fuck off, step their game up or how great he is. When he’s not doing that, he tells us he parties hard. It’s no different than your average Rap song on the radio.

That’s not a bad thing, of course. It’s actually what Rock music needs right now. Rock music suffered too much of over-seriousness. Ever since Nirvana, every rock star decided to make the audience a psychotherapist. Some Nu Metal or Punk Pop bands added a little fun, but a lot of Rock was just noise to think deep thoughts during recess. I can still remember the days when we considered fun music to be meaningless and therefore bad.

These songs are great. Urie is convincing in his arrogance and I don’t expect anything less of a rock star with fan girls. Urie sounds so confident that “Crazy=Genius” almost sounds stupid. What kind of lover would doubt him after hearing him on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? On “The Good, the Bad…” he sounds like he will continue smiling even if he’ll receive 1000 punches.

Urie also experiments with genres a bit, but they’re never full-blown experiments. It’s odd to hear no guitars on “Emperor’s New Clothes”, but he never lets the genre he experiments with to take over. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Urie is a charismatic enough singer to hold his own. The hooks are better than ever, but you do wish Urie would go further. If he’s so confident as he presents himself, why doesn’t he try to rap on “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Why doesn’t “Victorious” contains a Skrillex-inspired bass drop although it begs to?

As expected, it’s the ballads that fail. They’re not terrible, but they’re a huge step down. They reek of tokenism. Urie may like Sinatra, but he doesn’t have the same kind of voice. He can’t replicate that atmosphere. A few horns and vocal acrobatics don’t make you Sinatra or Dean Martin. They have a specific style of melodies and of singing.

The title-track doesn’t suffer too much since it still has the old rock star arrogance. The obligatory closing ballad is a huge step down. Instead of channeling the influence and making a throwback, it’s just your ordinary piano ballad at the end of a rock album. Ballads often stick like a sore thumb in an album full of party tracks.

These two and a few other, more serious tracks make the record less focused. Urie plays the party tracks with full conviction, but he’s unsure how exactly to imitate Sinatra. Without this focus, the album fails to be the big statement it should have been. It’s still a great record full of hooks and variety, though. Maybe Pretty Odd was Panic’s classics and they will never improve on it, but Urie is far sounding out of ideas.

3.5 naked emperors out of 5

Knife Party – Trigger Warning

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Famous artists disappear up their own ass, but Rob Swire’s disappearance is unique. When artists’ ambitions get to their heads, we get things that are plain weird. Maybe it’s the whole Advanced Genius Theory. Whatever they do, though, they never sound like they’re trying to avoid being something.

These are artists who were ‘underground’ not because they wanted to avoid the mainstream, but they don’t care about appealing to their core fanbase. That’s why Skrillex has no problem producing a song for Justin Bieber. He also a little later drops a loud, wobble-heavy banger with JAUZ. He cares for neither fan base.

If Skrillex always looked for new things and tried to make the best of them, Rob Swire is the opposite. He’s been moving away from the loud Bass Music for some time, but he used to have things to replace it with. It’s not the lack of wobbles or even heaviness that’s the problem. “Begin Again” was actually good. Their experiment with Disco was great. The problem is that they sound like they care more about sounding the opposite of their past, rather than making good music.

It wasn’t like this on their LP. It had the old heaviness with “404” and “Give It Up”. It found new way to sound like a siezure with “Micropenis” and that deep house track had a sick bassline. Knife Party were always derivative, but they knew how to take every style they jacked and make it work. This time, they’re not jumping into any particular. It’s your typical, faceless Electro House that has some Big Room and some Melbourne Bounce, but is generally afraid of being fun.

I know that most parties are filled with people who hate music. They came to hear the drums banging, take drugs and hopefully fuck someone. I don’t see how catering to these people leads to good music. I’m not even sure it’s a good startergy to get people to come in your shows. No one is going to spread these faceless tracks. Nothing here is as catchy as “Internet Friends” or sounds like the perfection of its style like “LRAD”.

For two tracks, Knife Party just give us the ordinary horn stabs for the drops. I’m serious. “PLUR Police” and “Kraken” have a very similar sound and don’t do anything with it. These horn stabs always sounded bad. They’re a less rhythmic version of the typical Big Room popcorn. They create a half-assed melody that can also pass for rhythm if you’re high on drugs at a rave.

There’s no rhythm to them, any inventiveness, anything catchy. Even when wobbles had no direction they at least constantly changed to catch your attention. It’s astounding that it took Knife Party around a year to produce these tracks. Get a random compilation from Spinnin’ Records, and you’ll fine at least 5 tracks that sound like “PLUR Police”.

It’s sad to see how far down they went. Inventive moments are still here. “Kraken” has some cool sounds that would’ve been easier to hear if Tom Staar didn’t shit on it. “PLUR Police” has good build-ups, both of them. As for the other track, it’s fantastic. “Parliament Funk” is everything you’d want in a Knife Party song. It has the same aggression, it’s focused more on aggression and the guitars in the build up give it some structure. For a change, it sounds like Knife Party borrowed ideas from all kinds of genres to create a catchy banger.

The JAUZ remix is fantastic. This guy has been making waves and hopefully he’ll re-ignite the scene. He doesn’t add anything but it’s been a while since I heard wobbles these powerful. The wobbles sound unhinged and organic. It’s like they happen on their own. Why is it here, though? I thought Knife Party weren’t into this style anymore. Maybe JAUZ will wake them up.

I love this band and I don’t want to see them jump the shark this way. I didn’t mind the lack of Brostep in their LP because they had enough to make up for it. They could still experiment and they still knew how to distort every style to make it their own. Here, they jump on a tired bandwagon and don’t sound so ethusiastic themselves. If Rob Swire isn’t into EDM anymore it’s best to call it quits now. Let them be remembered for their classic EP’s. If only the Tom Morello collaboration was released here.

Also, I can’t believe these guys didn’t release Zoology. It’s their best track and one of Skrillex’s bests, too.

2.5 dubstep remixes out of 5

Clutch – Psychic Warfare

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Clutch are, what, 24 years old now?

That’s a very old age in Rock & Roll, especially when your music is about driving rock. Most bands burn out or get tired of rocking. They take the stage, get the girls and lose the frustration that makes for good loud music. Even the best turn artistic. Monster Magnet rediscovered Psychedelia and Local H flirted with Progressive Rock as soon as their started moving units.

Clutch never had that artistic bent. They were all about riffs and catchy hooks. You could lump them up other dumb Hard Rock like Drowning Pool and Nickelback. The only difference between them and Clutch is that Clutch had better hooks and and outsider’s perspective.

Clutch were outsiders, and still were. For all of their rocking and rolling, they had weird lyrics that were poetic as they made little sense. Neil isn’t a big rock star out for the sex and money. He’s a weirdo who likes turning up his weirdness loud.

That makes them an almost perfect band. Combine the hooks with the odd lyrics, and they sound more badass than anyone else. This also gave them a glass ceiling. They were so focused on just kicking rock songs that they will never make a masterpiece. If there was some hope in the past they might knock one out, it’s all gone on Psychic Warfare.

It’s a confusing album that will only make sense depending on what comes after. It’s either the sound of a band giving up and not even trying to make a “Mice and Gods”, or it’s the sound of a band being comfortable in their place and just having fun.

The first tracks rock hard and got the energy, but none of the hooks. They’re driven by sound with the melodies as an afterthought. “X-Ray Visions” isn’t sure what the melody for the hook is. If it wasn’t for Neil’s brilliant lyrics and charisma, the song would’ve been boring to death. “A Quick Death in Texas” is the only chorus that sticks, and would’ve been just another good song on Robot Hive/Exodus.

Clutch may be giving up, but every song is performed with enthusiasm. Clutch sound happy in their place. Neil sounds like he’s happy to spit big words like ‘dynamite’ and ‘telekenetic’ on “X-Ray Visions”. In another band’s hands, it would run out of steam in 30 seconds.

The second best song here is “Noble Savage”, and it’s where the band (again) declares how rock and roll is their life. It doesn’t have a melody, but the band sounds so energized that it’s convincing. Neil might be 43 years, but no one sounds better than him at capturing the appeal of rock and roll. It’s about having fun and letting out your weirdness. Other bands try to convince you they’re having fun by singing about how much sex they have. Neil has a wide-eyed approach that makes “Decapitation Blues” sound more fun than them. That one is about neck damage from headbanging.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Clutch are more interesting in performing live than writing songs. These songs are more about loudness and energy than melody. They’ve been rocking weird for 24 years. How much left do they have to say? Still, if they perform these songs with the energy it promises it means Clutch should keep going. If it’s a sign of things to come though, maybe they should stop. They’re still a melodic rock band, and a good live show is hard to make of bad songs nobody wanted to write.

3 noble savages out of 5

Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

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The progress of shock artists is hilarious. Both Marilyn Manson and Eminem rose at the same time. Both were attacked for ruining America’s youth. Both had huge commercial and critical success, although the white rapper was more favoured. On the surface, it’s obvious. Eminem’s dexterity, great rhymes and the occasional depth is out in the open. Marilyn Manson was equally good, perhaps better, but on the surface all he had was noise. You’d expect Manson to run out of ideas quicker, but the fact more people care about Eminem in 2015 doesn’t mean much. Manson has expanded his sound, while Eminem is still trying to shock people with dissing female pop stars.

The Pale Emperor is the ideal record for a middle-aged shock rocker. It reveals Manson didn’t set out to shock for shock’s sake. His shocking image would have been there even if it hadn’t got him the attention. The Pale Emperor‘s themes and style sounds less shocking in comparison only because it’s 2015, and Manson doesn’t feel like making so much noise. He’s more into the blues that he explored in The High End of Low and big, stomping drums.

His blues is closer to Five Horse Johnson than Led Zeppelin, meaning it actually sounds like blues. Manson borrow not just the structure of blues but its atmosphere. He managed to re-create the grittiness and desolation of Blind Willie Johnson, although with a different purpose. This may sound like an attempt to move forward, but instead it’s just a middle-aged aritsts indulging in what he likes because he doesn’t care anymore. More than any other Manson record, The Pale Emperor sees him not trying to say anything.

It’s not a first for Manson, but this lack of concept acted differently in Golden Age and High End of Low. Golden Age was a break from making ambitious albums, but it was still full of noise and hooks. High End of Low was a break from being a rock star, which allowed Manson to throw himself at any crazy idea because he doesn’t owe anybody anything. The Pale Emperor just sees him kicking some bluesy rock and that’s it. It doesn’t hint at any future.

Once you get used to the blues rock, there are no more experiments. The Pale Emperor coasts along, delivering catchy hooks over stomping drums. Manson’s lyrics are still there, and he still tries any wordplay he can think of (“I can’t tell if you wear me out/or wear me well”), but it doesn’t aim at any big picture. Only “Killing Strangers” sounds like it has a message, but Manson decides not to hammer it in. “Deep Six” is a throwback to Golden Age and Holy Wood, but it’s played with nostalgia, not with excitement of new sounds

On paper, it sounds bad. It would sound boring if any artists made such an album, but an album like this from Manson sounds worse. On record, it’s great. It’s not his best, and it’s not trying but every track here works. “Deep Six” is just as good as his old material, and “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge” and “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” are just as good as their titles. He seemed to have lost the knack for ballads, because “Odds of Even” and “Warship My Wreck” are saved only because Manson plays them. The track that defines the album is “The Devil Beneath My Feer”. Manson never sounded so carefree and happy. It could easily be covered by Neon Trees or Grouplove.

The Pale Emperor is the one record that outsiders may enjoy the most from Manson. The shocking part was the least likeable element, and now that he threw it away what remained was an entertaining rock album. He probably won’t drop another classic, but if he still sounds like he’s got some more hooks and cool song titles in him.

3 emperors out of 5