Review Summary: See how ambitious Paramore can be...
The return of Paramore was, if nothing else, always going to be an intriguing event. Having lost two founding members (Josh and Zac Farro) and kept a fairly low profile since their latest release has a lot of questions to answer. How would the new-look Paramore (complete with a terrible Hayley Williams fringe) compare to the Paramore that fans knew and loved? Would this prove the claims that Josh Farro was the talented and creative one of the group? Could Hayley Williams create an album superior to Riot! or Brand New Eyes? When listening to this album I have the sense that Hayley is aware of these questions and therefore has made some decisions to try and answer them.
Firstly; the length of the album. 17 tracks. 64 minutes. Out of interest compare that to Brand New Eyes (40 minutes) and Riot! (39 minutes) and you'll see that this new Paramore album offers 20 minutes more worth of music than their previously longest album. And as is the case with most hour-long pop-rock (or pop-punk or whichever genre you wish to place Paramore in) there is a certain amount of filler. The acoustic interludes ukulele and all should never have even made it into the recording studio never mind actually being on the album. They are unable to add any sort of value to the album and sit uncomfortably with their surrounding songs. Similarly songs such as Day Dreaming, (One of Those) Crazy Girls and Hate to See Your Heart Break should have been relegated to B-Sides, at best. However, despite the filler available Paramore must be applauded for showing their ambition as not many of their peers would be brave enough to release an album that could challenge it's listeners to stay engaged for over an hour.
The problem I have is whilst listening to this album I get the feeling Hayley Williams is attempting to show everyone how creative she is and as a result tries to cram every half idea she has into the new LP. Unsurprisingly the results are mixed. The track Ain't it Fun proves this within 5 minutes. The song starts incredibly strong and catchy, the synthesizers used in the pre-chorus and chorus blend seamlessly with the guitars and drums and you start to believe this new sound has propelled Paramore to new heights. However, the song is completely ruined halfway through when, for no discernible reason, a gospel choir is introduced singing the refrain "don't go crying to your momma, cause you're on your own in the real world." This shows the bands problems with their creativity filter; had the song been a 3 minute track missing that last half it would be a serious contender for song of the album but unfortunately it is ruined by the needless gospel (If you wish to hear a successful use of a choir check out new Yeah Yeah Yeahs single Sacrilege).
As previously mentioned synthesizers are used on this album, regularly, so much so that on first listen I started to believe I was listening to the new Tegan & Sara album (Heartthrob) all over again, only less enjoyable. After a quick check of contributors to the album I discovered Justin Meldal-Johnsen was the producer and what else happens to be on his list of credentials? Heartthrob! This is not to say that sounding like Tegan & Sara is a bad thing, Heartthrob is actually one of my favorite albums of the year so far, but I do not expect it from Paramore and they aren't able to pull it off quite as well, mostly. However, the one exception is Still Into You, which is the greatest Tegan & Sara song they never wrote and may be the best song on the album.
The main positive of this album is that it is insanely catchy. I took great joy in deriding opener Fast in My Car but somewhere along the line ridicule turned to genuine enjoyment as I found myself singing along in my head on a daily basis. This can be said for many of these songs (Ain't it Fun, Ankle Biters, and whilst they may not be quite fully formed or executed as well as the band would like, they will stick with you after you've listened to them and, for me, that makes it worth a listen.