Review Summary: Paramore gets comfortable, and thus the riot has ended.
OK…let’s get the important stuff out of the way right off the bat. With Brand New Eyes
, Hayley Williams cements her status as the
absolute hottest woman in the genre. The video for Ignorance shows a sexy dark side of her that is thoroughly enticing, and the promo shots for the album showcase her voluptuous figure in several striking and suggestive poses. And that racy sheer black number she rocked at the Grammys last year? Just WOW. Never before had I seen Hayley put her sex appeal so obviously on display, and it was delicious. Plus, she’s been seen to wear some rather spicy high-waisted hot shorts at several recent gigs, ala Katy Perry. Pure win. So, if this issue was ever in doubt, it can now be put to rest: Hayley Williams is
the hottest woman in alternative rock. Hayley Williams is the sex. Case closed. (And thus ends the review we actually care about.)
Now, for the 5% of you who actually care about anything concerning this band besides Ms. Hotness and her stunning bod--um…voice, here’s the actual MUSIC review:
A third album on a major record label is a laudable accomplishment for any band. It is a milestone, defining career bands from the one-hit wonders. Album number three lets everyone know: we’re here to stay
. On the other hand, there are certain expectations that come with a third album. Some significant measure of growth, in personal skill for each member as well as cohesion as a unit, is almost taken for granted. Improvement in the realm of songwriting, and a broader range of musicianship is certainly anticipated as well. To put it simply, the bar is raised significantly for a third album, and the band -- in this case alternative rockers Paramore -- are counted on to meet it.
Brand New Eyes
finds Hayley and her boys fresh out of a relational storm that threatened to destroy the band, and normally that bodes well for creativity, as perspectives change and new emotions arise from those feelings of depression. Sure enough, Hayley writes about these complex issues with a refreshing candor, though this is not surprising as Hayley has always been a compelling and heartfelt lyricist. Lines such as “The same tricks that once fooled me, they won’t get you anywhere/I’m not the same kid from your memory…now I’ve learned to fend for myself”
clearly allude to her personal struggles within the band. She also has a much more apparent pessimistic side on this album, with lyrics like “Misguided ghosts, traveling endlessly/The ones we trusted the most, pushed us far away”
and “I scraped my knees when I was praying, and found a demon in my safest haven/Seems like it's getting harder to believe in anything/You just get lost in all my selfish thoughts.”
Then again, there is an excellent contrast in the songs 'Looking Up' and 'The Only Exception', which showcase a fervent optimism. Hayley has improved as a lyricist with each album, and she cements her postion as one of the best in the genre on Brand New Eyes.
Her voice, believe it or not, has also improved exponentially. It is distinctive as always, displaying a real urgency and grit that very few female vocalists can achieve. It is more diverse as well; she now has a fully developed lower range that allows her to sound softer, more intimate and introspective in order to perfectly match--and actually help create--the mood of quieter songs like 'The Only Exception' and 'Misguided Ghosts'. And then, at times, her voice will just simply blow. you. away.
The sheer beauty of her high range in songs like 'All I Wanted' is breathtaking. There are many bands cropping up now in alternative rock with outstanding female vocalists, but with this album Hayley lets them know that she is all alone at the top of the heap.
The rest of the band, on the other hand, is not at the top of the alternative rock heap but instead buried somewhere in the middle. They showed promise of perhaps climbing nearer to the top with the tremendous maturation showed on Riot!
Unfortunately though, they have not made any notable progress on Brand New Eyes,
even with the addition of rhythm guitarist Taylor York. Don’t get me wrong: Riot!
was an excellent, catchy, album, and BNE
is at least as good. But as I said earlier, the bar is raised for a third album, and the Paramore boys just don’t quite reach it here. Nothing BNE
offers--save possibly for 'Ignorance', 'Careful', and 'Brick By Boring Brick'--comes close to the catchiness and creativity of 'Misery Business', 'Fences', 'Crushcrushcrush', 'Emergency', or their live version of 'Let The Flames Begin'. The band can still write riffs, but they seem forced this time around. With the majority of songs on AWKIF
every chord and note seemed perfectly placed: like each element was tailor-made for it‘s particular place, fulfilling it’s special role in the overall flow of the music. On Brand New Eyes,
the focus is more on infectious rhythm. Which isn’t a bad thing, but that eventually wears off. There are plenty
of catchy rhythms in the music world: what sets the memorable songs and bands apart is their ability to integrate simple but unforgettable melodies and chord progressions with the toe-tapping rhythms. And that
is precisely where this album falls short.
There are plenty of catchy hooks, no doubt about it. They just seem to be missing that special ingredient that has made previous songs so startlingly impossible to stop listening to. Case in point: the three song trio of 'Feeling Sorry', 'Looking Up', and 'Where The Lines Overlap'. They are all extremely catchy songs, and I loved ‘em with the first few listens. But the more I listened, the more they all started to blend together. In fact, after hearing the songs several times, I realized that they were #1: very close to the same length, #2: the same basic tempo, and #3: all played in the same key! After a few listens, this entire three-song section becomes disposable. In addition, there are a few other tracks that come across as too predictable and simply lackluster. 'Playing God' is one of those, with a captivatingly upbeat chorus the only thing saving the song from being completely bland. 'Turn It Off' is enjoyable, but rather forgettable, having an uninteresting main riff. The lead guitar and bass in this song are quite likeable, but the rhythm is very generic and predictable when it had the chance to be more distinctive and exciting. 'Misguided Ghosts' is a sensational acoustic melody, but the song dies before it has a chance to really take off. Also, the album as a whole has a regrettably large dose of the all-too-familiar palm-muted verse followed by exploding chorus routine. Now, for the majority of fans who will buy this album just for the overall catchiness, these issues involving quality
are not that big a deal. But it is still a bit disappointing to see Paramore being content to stay safely within the oft-banal confines of their chosen genre, settling for what they know will sell instead of reaching for a loftier goal.
However, there are several outstanding moments on Brand New Eyes
in which Paramore does reach higher, and these moments are what save the album and make it a worthy addition to the Paramore catalog. The slower songs on this album ('The Only Exception', 'Misguided Ghosts') are a definite improvement over 'When It Rains' and 'We Are Broken' from Riot!
On 'The Only Exception', Hayley’s voice, coupled with the minimalist acoustic instrumentation almost perfectly channels a coffee-shop indie rock vibe. 'Careful' is a thunderous opener, with loads of guitar feedback leading into a wall of hard-hitting riffage that easily ranks as one of their most aggressive hooks to date. The bridge is excellent also, especially when it breaks to the controversial lyric of “The truth never set me free, so I did it myself.”
Then immediately following that line, right when you expect another installment of the chorus, there instead is a soft, stirring guitar line that builds anticipation, followed immediately by a fierce drum fill instantly raising the tension once again for the final chorus. Easily one of the best and most original moments on the record. 'Ignorance' and 'Brick By Boring Brick' are each extremely infectious all the way through, rivaling the catchiness of earlier albums. And 'All I Wanted' is by far the best album closer they’ve concocted yet, featuring a haunting melody eventually joined by a heavy, brooding riff unlike anything the band has ever attempted previously. When you then factor in one of the best vocal performances of Hayley Williams’ career, the resulting song is an immediate standout and one of the highlights of Paramore’s entire catalog.
So what does it all amount to? A very mixed bag. On one hand, there are definitely some career achievements here: the chill, mellow feel of 'The Only Exception', the groovy-ness displayed on 'Brick By Boring Brick', and the dark, aggressive edge to 'Careful', 'Ignorance', and 'All I Wanted'. But dig a little deeper into this bag, and you’ll find an unfortunate amount of filler. Rhythm without melodic substance, a lack of satisfying leads (especially in comparison with previous efforts), and the distinct feeling that everything has been cut from the same cloth. It’s just a little too smooth. There was an invigorating sense of urgency with All We Know Is Falling
that seems to have been left behind on this album. There are a delightful few moments when that urgency reappears: the blistering riff and edgy, pounding verses of 'Careful', 'Ignorance’s frantic riffs and choruses, and Hayley’s heartstring-ripping pleadings of “all I wanted was you!”,
closing the album like a ferocious hurricane that suddenly dies right at it’s climax. It’s in these moments of brilliance that you realize the fantastic potential of this band, how much better they really could be with just the slightest
foray out of their comfort zone. Clearly Paramore has gotten more comfortable as a band on Brand New Eyes,
but for those who were hoping the band would stretch their limits even further and create something truly dynamic for their genre, unfortunately the riot has ended for now.