Review Summary: Can you accept that change is good? It's good, it's gooood.
Let’s make one thing clear: Paramore as we know them
are dead. What I mean by this is that the head banging, punk-rockers from the mid-2000s simply do not exist anymore. Brand New Eyes
was both the culmination and end of that formula, punctuating an extremely successful three album run that in itself could have been considered a great career. Following a nasty split between Hayley Williams – the band’s fiery lead vocalist – and the Farro brothers (Josh and Zac), there were a number of directions that Paramore could have gone. They dodged the most likely of those outcomes (total disbandment and a Hayley solo venture) by pressing forward with Taylor York taking over lead guitar duties, Jeremy Davis manning the bass, and Ilan Rubinal recording the drums. While their “statement” re-introduction LP Paramore
was met with general disdain from longtime fans, especially those who viewed the full-on gospel breakdown in “Ain’t It Fun” as a sign of just how bad things had gotten, the commercial viability was still there. Like it or not, Paramore
was extremely marketable and overflowed with earworm melodies at just about every turn; it was a successful pop outing through and through. That brings me to my main point here: there seems to be this needless dichotomy between people who hate what Paramore has become and those who have embraced their fun-loving, purely pop
phase. This is for all intents and purposes a different band now, and we shouldn’t be measuring them against a punk-rock pedigree that the band itself is no longer even pursuing. To agree that Paramore’s original definition and purpose died with their eponymous release is still absolutely correct, but at the same time it doesn’t need to be a negative indictment of where the band is now
With all of that said, After Laughter
marks a logical progression from Paramore
. If you’ll recall the way that record often fumbled between different styles in an attempt to locate a singular identity, After Laughter
surprises with steadfast resolve. There’s a tightness to the entire experience that reminds me a little bit of Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION
, both in consistency and in their likeminded 80s influence. If Paramore
was like Jepsen’s Kiss
– radio ready and packed with hooks – then After Laughter
is analogous to E•MO•TION
…there’s more of a subtle, understated confidence in direction and the quality is steady and constant, even if it never culminates in a mega-hit akin to “Still Into You” or “Call Me Maybe.” An initial listen or two may be deceiving, as we get everything from tacky sounding 80s-worship to spoken passages from indie legend Aaron Weiss, but the diversity of it all feels more organic as the record grows on you – which it will
is at its best when it really embraces the change. The quirkier Paramore gets here, the more they let their creative energy take over. “Hard Times”, for example, was an easy lead single to hate
– it had an irritating as hell chorus, an at-the-time unfounded 80s obsession, and it sounded like the thump of a band falling another rung lower on a ladder they used to be atop of. “Hard Times” has some really cool things going on though, namely the eclectic percussion and Hayley’s faded when I hit the ground
bridge vocals. It’s the kind of song that might dissuade passive listeners, but in the context of the whole record ends up fitting in perfectly. “Rose Colored Boy” is another rather flamboyant tune, with a high-pitched backing chorus that shouts “low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather!
”, which may risk ruffling the feathers of anyone still hoping for another Riot!
, but it helps usher in the idea that this is what Paramore is now: unashamedly pop, unafraid to fail, and unconcerned with their detractors. Like any risk, it won’t satisfy everyone. And there will be pitfalls: some of these tracks don't really sound like Paramore (most of them, actually) and don't bring any tangible hooks or memorable melodies to the table. But that’s the beauty of it...they were never going to claw their way back into relevancy by playing to a style of music that fell out of favor in 2009. Here, they sound refreshed and ready to join the world of new wave synth-pop in 2017.
The record still varies its tempo from time to time, resulting in some truly gorgeous gems. “26” is the obvious winner in that category, floating on a soft cloud of pristine acoustic guitars that are joined by shimmering chimes and a subtle, wistful string section. “You got me tied up but I stay close to the window
” Hayley muses, before waxing poetic about the freedom of one’s mind: “…they say that dreaming is free, but I wouldn't care what it cost me / Reality will break your heart...It's keeping all your hopes alive when all the rest of you has died
.” Paramore has never been a band to delve all that deep – and for the most part After Laughter
doesn’t change that – but when it does aim to be profound, it shoots to kill. This is never more evident than it is on “No Friend”, which is hands down the strangest song to ever find its way onto a Paramore record. The reason for that starts and ends with mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss, who marks a surprise feature on the album and is apparently repaying his debt for Hayley’s stunning vocal contributions on Ten Stories
’ “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume” and “All Circles.” The entire song is spoken-word and barely discernible, but I can assure you the lyrics mean just as much as they usually do when the mewithoutYou frontman gets involved – lines such as “I see myself in the reflection of people's eyes / Realizing what they see may not be even close to the image I see in myself
” serve as proof. It seems every time that Williams and Weiss get together magic happens, and “No Friend” continues that tradition. There are some other beautiful slowed down moments across After Laughter
, but these two are the cream of the crop – perhaps the best of their entire discography as well.
Paramore’s fifth full-length feels like the fresh start that Paramore
was meant to be. Even though I steadfastly believe that record is both underrated and misunderstood (it was a tumultuous time in the band’s history and too many fans remained loyal to their punk roots), After Laughter
is the first post-2010 Paramore record to truly break form. 2013’s Paramore
aimed to please everyone (single “Now” was all about convincing diehards they hadn’t lost their rock edge) and ended up dividing fans into two camps. The opportunity to write this record presented a fork in the road, with one circling back to their heavier roots and the other diverging off into the unknown. It's like Hayley sings in the closer "Tell Me How": "Do I suffocate or let go?
" They seem to finally be taking a path forward, which is both exciting and slightly unnerving to watch as there will almost certainly be missteps along the way. This is a resurrection for a group that with a couple different breaks might not have existed, and the present members – including the returned Zac Farro – are making the most of that second wind by re-imagining, redefining, and transforming the idea of what it means to be in the band. They definitely haven’t perfected this new sound yet, but for the first time since their debut we can look at Paramore and truly say they are doing something different.