Review Summary: It might not be the "cool album" anymore, but I'm not ashamed to say it was the first to win my heart and save my soul with rock 'n' roll.
All my life, I’ve held a deep, dark secret about my music tastes’ past. My mom led a sheltered childhood and had not been properly exposed to more “indecent” genres of music. Because of this, she entered adulthood with a passion for the only type of music she had really known (other than church hymns or Irish folk songs), country music. And so, whenever I was with my mom, country was what we listened to. Thus, I spent much of my childhood believing that country was my favorite type of music.
And then Guitar Hero came along. It might be cliché or uncool that a video game exposed me to rock music, but what’s done is done. What’s important is that I immediately fell in love with the stuff. All I knew of rock was the mellower or weird stuff from my dad’s Billy Joel and Peter Gabriel collections, but I was immediately blown away by the classics like “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
The reason I’m reviewing this album, perhaps the reason why I’ve listened to any album ever, is the pure blast of energy that shook out of the television speakers and permeated my eardrums with “Misery Business.” To this day, I can’t explain why it was that song that broke me, whether it be the admitted influence of country on the members, the playfulness and pure sex appeal of Hayley Williams’, well, voice, or the incredibly fresh sound of the alternative rock to my musically virgin ears. I went out and bought the album within the week. It was the first real album I ever bought, and started my obsession with all things music.
Anyway, on with the review.
“For a Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic” is a wall of sound, kicking off with the sass and spunk that encompasses much of the rest of the record. The vocals, guitars, even the drums at times manage to sound pissed off at whoever managed to get on the wrong side of Hayley this time. The whole band bounces and builds off of each other as the song continues on, which climaxes and culminates in a somewhat dissatisfied feedback whir, immediately cutting into “That’s What You Get.” As it begins, it threatens to sound very much like the first track, but grows into something ultimately more poppy and melodic. A joy to listen to, it combines a that heavy sound with beautiful and huge sounding vocals from Hayley.
One thing I should mention now so I don’t have to keep repeating it in the future is what might be the greatest thing about Paramore. You never quite know what to expect. Whether it be in the direction of a whole song, as in the beautiful and vastly underrated “We Are Broken” (rife with thick atmosphere and tortured lyrics), or in the very structure of the songs in general. You never know what genre will come next, or when a breakdown, runaway melody, or bridge is gonna come crashing down or floating in.
“Miracle” fills its runtime with hopeful lyrics, glittering guitars, and soaring vocals, being both lovely and a bit forgettable at the same time. It gracefully leaves the stage before “Misery Business” kicks the doors in and leaves whatever came before in wreckage. You probably don’t need to be told why the song is awesome again. Oddly enough, even more impressive than it is the follow up, “When it Rains.” On the surface, it’s almost filler-like, wedged in-between two fan favorites of the former and “Let the Flames Begin.” However, on further listens, the importance placed in this song becomes clear. The band sounds entirely unified in their effort to make it as emotional and just plain gorgeous as possible without ever sounding forced. From the opening guitar pattering in like a light drizzle, to the earnest plea of “You can take your time/Take my time,” "When It Rains" slowly becomes one of the most meaningful and honest songs Paramore has ever released.
“Let the Flames Begin” kicks up the mood a notch with pounding – almost tribal – drums and an openly rebellious message. Hayley lets the band take over the chorus, adding a dehumanizing distortion to her vocals before eerily sliding back into that iconic riff and coming back up for air one last time before the echoing guitar becomes all that survives. “Miracle” comes in and out pretty enjoyably and harmlessly. It’s a straightforward song, and probably the least inventive of all the tracks on the album. With decent riffs, good interplay, and great vocals, it’s basically as good as you could expect the average Paramore song to be. If there had to be one, this is it.
“Crushcrushcrush” is a weirdo. It’s one of the heavier songs, with sexual lyrics, boundless energy, and an eerie sense of paranoia that’s infused into every second of the song. After the lovely (discussed earlier) “We Are Broken” comes one of those genre-bender songs, “Fences.” The acoustic is audible throughout, no matter how loud and pounding the electric is, highlighting the softer side of Hayley as she pities and mocks at the same time. The band follows suit in what’s part punk, part rock, part… folk? Whatever, we don’t know what it is exactly and that's completely fine.
The final song, “Born For This” is a mixed bag. The call-and-answer vocals between Hayley and the band was probably awesome when they did it live, and the constant shifting nature is great. At the same time, that opening riff is annoying as hell and the semi-political message is lost in the overtly feel-good nature of the lyrics. Not a great way to end such a great album, but not remotely bad either.
In the end, this is the album that shaped my view of music forever. If it weren’t for this, I might still be convinced I love country music more than anything (well, I do still love the Dixie Chicks). I owe Paramore a debt for not only making an amazing album, but for inspiring a younger me to branch out and listen to new music. Thanks to their eclectic structure and genre-crossing boundaries, I have the wide variety of tastes I do now. Thank you, Riot! You transported my soul into the wonders of music.
For a Pessimist I'm Pretty Optimistic: 8
That's What You Get: 8.5
Misery Business: 9
When It Rains: 10
Let The Flames Begin: 8.5
We Are Broken: 9
Born For This: 7
Epilogue: Since then, I’ve gotten my mom to listen to many different genres of music besides country. She really likes rock. And she loves Paramore.