Review Summary: A slightly safe album from one of the most popular bands out there right now, but it's still great.
Did anyone really see the stratospheric rise of Paramore coming? Back when All We Know Is Falling came out, they were just another rock band with a cute singer toiling away without much success. They weren't all that different from a number of other bands who were starting out at the same time, but with the release of Riot!, all of a sudden if you were in a band with a chick singer, you were trying to rip off Paramore. Bands like Hey Monday and Once, We Were Heroes are never going to reach the level of success that Paramore have simply because Paramore got there first and put up a roadblock for everybody else. Is this a bad thing?
Not at all - it could have been Flyleaf.
Of course, it's not as if Paramore haven't been feeling the pressure these past few years. If Radiohead hadn't already used The Bends as an album title, Brand New Eyes could have easily taken the name. With their success came internal issues, and I won't go into details because this doesn't need to read like an Alternative Press article. Basically, Paramore were almost no more, and with Brand New Eyes they want you to know that they came out the other side intact and stronger than ever.
Well, sort of.
Brand New Eyes sees Hayley Williams coming even more into her own as a vocalist, but progression is a two-way street, and the band isn't exactly meeting her halfway. With each album, Williams seems to get ten times better, while the Y-chromosomes only get about three times better. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those people who really wants the band (Josh and Zach Farro, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York, in the interest of mentioning names other than Hayley) to start shredding and riffing like a post hardcore band, but when your singer exceeds expectations (and gets hotter - have you seen
the video for "Ignorance"?) with each album, there should be just a tad more progression. That being said, they do a good job on this album, and they even think outside their normal box a little bit. "Misguided Ghosts" is a subdued, acoustic song, and I'll be damned if we've ever heard a subdued Paramore song. "We Are Broken" and "When It Rains" were fairly chilled out and slow but Hayley's performances on those songs can't exactly be described as "laid back." On "Misguided Ghosts," she sounds like a smoother version of a 90s punk band vocalist (think Jawbreaker), singing in that sort of style where there aren't many changes in tone, where everything is very laid back. At first I thought she sounded bored, but now I see it as a good thing. Musically, the acoustic guitars play different picked progressions that complement each other nicely. It's a bit different for them, and it's good to hear. The band aren't reinventing their own wheel, they're just finally making it spin a little bit faster.
"The Only Exception" brings to mind "The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot," focusing on Hayley's voice and lyrics while simple acoustic chords and clean leads back her up. On All We Know Is Falling there was "My Heart," a blunt and obvious song that focused on a climax to be emotional; with "The Only Exception" Paramore have figured out that it doesn't have to finish loud to incite a reaction in the listener. And speaking of Williams' lyrics, they've definitely improved. Gone are the bitchy anthems like "Misery Business" and the doe-eyed viewpoints of "Brighter" - in their place are scathing accusations ("Where's your gavel, your jury?") and advice to anyone building any sort of relationship, be it a band or a romance ("So build your house brick by boring brick or the wolf's gonna blow it down."). And while she's definitely learned to be more subtle with her language, she still knows that there's nothing wrong with choruses that repeat the same line over and over. "All I Wanted" is all-Williams-all-the-time; her vocal performance in the song is head and shoulders above anything she has ever done, and that includes her jaw-dropping coda to "Let The Flames Begin" on The Final Riot. When the band drops out and leaves her on her own to sing "All I wanted was you" halfway through the song, you'll know that Williams isn't a teenybopper anymore.
Brand New Eyes does have a few missteps though. The tracklist could have been arranged a bit better (placing "Looking Up" and "Where The Lines Overlap" together was a mistake, as they both concern the band itself and start out musically similar), and "Looking Up" is the only Paramore song I've heard that I really don't like that much. But still, the album is a fitting follow-up to Riot! There's just enough maturation from the band to keep naysayers from saying "I told you so!" and the typical mind-blowing vocal performances from Williams save the band in the few moments where they falter. In the past, Paramore became more popular than their peers simply by being better, but now I think they're discovering that they'll need to be different
to continue to impress their ever-growing fanbase. Brand New Eyes shows that they have the potential - now they've just got to live up to it and create the classic album the fans know they can make.