Review Summary: Why are they crying rainbow tears? You might ask. ‘Cause God, it just feels so gooood.
Have you ever had the feeling that you want to cry, yet you instead smile in front of others, as you are afraid that such action will affect others, or, worse, will cause desertion for being a crybaby if you do so？ Many of us do have such suffocating feeling, and perhaps Hayley Williams of Paramore
also experienced it heavily as well. After a rather ugly legal dispute with the former bassist Jeremy Davis, the rather divided reception from fans towards the band’s relatively unfocused self-titled album (though critically acclaimed and became their first chart-topping effort in the US), the separation of her and her husband (for a brief one year) New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert and many troubles that we don’t know, things perhaps could not get bleaker for the frontwoman and her band, as she once privately quit the band temporarily. However, out of many’s surprise, Williams, guitarist Taylor York and returned drummer Zac Farro, ditched their punk-pop routes for a more 80s synth-pop and new wave direction in their 2017 album After Laughter
. While some see such left turn as a sellout, many find it a pleasant surprise and a greatly interesting effort. If you think that the band would be about unicorn and rainbows in this poppy record, then, well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
This album, in fact, contains their moodiest works beneath the poppy sounds, as Williams loathed about many darkly suffocating moments, turning her personal pain into universal anthems in more of a Rumours
-era Fleetwood Mac
way instead of the typical punk-pop method. From forcefully inflate yourself to be optimistic (“Rose-Coloured Boy”), lamenting about her ageing (“Caught In The Middle”), facing hypocrites for being caring (“Told You So”) to faking yourself to be happy (the appropriately titled “Fake Happy”) and facing a suffocating tidal wave of difficulties (“Hard Times”), Williams shows us that even joyous rock stars like her can have their troubles like many ordinary people do. For instance, poignantly, stiletto-sharp lines such as “All that I want is to wake up fine, tell me that I'm all right, that I ain't gonna die” (from “Hard Times”), “Oh please, just don't ask me how I've been, don't make me play pretend” (from “Fake Happy”), “Just let me cry a little bit longer, I ain't goin' smile if I don't want to” (from “Rose-Coloured Boy”), exposes the Williams’ dark clouds of depression and struggles that many can relate and understand, with her towering vocals enhance the catharsis of these lines. These darkly self-loathing words makes a huge contrast to the brightly coloured sound, showcasing the band’s unlikely growth of maturity and Williams’ still-sharp-edged songwriting.
Although they may move on to the poppy directions, the band are still not afraid to reveal their personal moments like many Emo peers do. From losing friends and bandmates to separating yourself from her lover and indulging in her fantasy in order to numb her pain, Williams also documents these painful moments in this album as well. In this album, Williams delivered numerous personal reflections, from dark takes of love songs (“Pool”), hatchet-burials (“Grudges”) to mournings of losing friend (“Tell Me How”), and laments of being mindlessly idolised (“Idle Worship”) and trapped in her fantasy (“26”), she exhibits personal words like very few others. For instance, "Never found the deep end of our little ocean /Drain the fantasy of you /Headfirst into shallow pools” (from “Pool”) is a strong reflection of her much-publicised romance, while “Strange how we found ourselves exactly where we left off” (from “Grudges”) and “Of all the weapons you fight with, your silence is the most violent” (from “Tell Me How”) are aching portraits of her struggles of mending the bridge and accidentally burning down the bridge between your friends respectively. Like many rockstars, Williams has her own struggles, and she really writes it beautifully without being melodramatic.
What makes the album more surprisingly redeeming is its ironically much-criticised feature—the overall glossy, new-wave-oriented production. Any music fan knows changing your routes can be risky, from Brit-pop leaders Suede’s divisive move of ditching their guitar-centric sound for the synth-led directions in Head Music
to Liz Phair’s disastrous trade of the brutally honest indie-rock for the pop-rock routes and the wacky “rap-pop” (Funstyle
, anyone？) and Bob Dylan briefly abandon his acclaimed folk-rock to move to (what the actual hell？)the christian rock direction. However, the case of After Laughter
isn’t such case. Sure, some fans who are used to their jagged punk-pop sound may dislike such detour, but the bright side of this change is that Paramore changed it seamlessly and execute such change beautifully. In fact, the lead single “Hard Times” is a recall to Talking Head’s “Once In A Lifetime”, with the quirky vocals is reminiscent of David Bryne’s and the juggling drumming is also sound quite similar to the polyrhythms of the iconic song, while showcasing their own signature punk-pop energy; highlights such as “Fake Happy”, “26” and “Caught In The Middle” is perhaps superb imitations of new wave icons Blondie’s greatest hits:the first one is a pseudo-reenactment of Blondie’s undisputed classic “Heart of Class”, as Williams unleashed her inner Deborah Harry to match the guitar-led neo-disco pop of the crowning jewel track; the melancholy second one has the line “And they say that dreaming is free, but I wouldn't care what it cost me” which perhaps referencing another Blondie swooning classic “Dreaming”, in which Harry sang in the chorus, “Dreaming, dreaming is free”; the last one is a fresh mixture of Blondie’s reggae-tinged “One Way Or Another” and the groovy disco-detoured proto-rap “Rapture”, resulting a highlight that many find it fun to dance to. These near-flawless experimentations proofed that Paramore isn’t going stuck in their signature punk-pop sound, and they graduated from the decent mishmash of their self-titled album to the much more consistent and clarified new wave-infused pop, showing that they are capable of growing up with fans without dumping the qualities of their works.
Although there are brilliant qualities to admire, there are some downsides in the album, unfortunately. First of which is that the band makes the same mistakes in this album that they made prior to this album—it can be too reliant on choruses. Although this kind of reliance has been significantly reduced when comparing this album to previous efforts, I can’t help but to find myself have hard times catching up the songs until the chorus strikes in occasionally (no pun intended), especially in “Forgiveness”, “Idle Worship”, the highlights “Rose-Coloured Boy” and “Caught In The Middle”. Another flaw in this album is that it sounds too pop-oriented at times, as I almost mistook some songs as straight-up pop songs, as I find “Idle Worship” and sweet “Forgiveness” too much of pop songs and the band detoured too far to the pop side, making these two songs as some of the filler tracks in the album.
Overall, this album may have the same mistakes at times and, of course, overtly accessible for its poppier sound that not every hardcore fan favours, but it nonetheless showcased the band’s growth in an unlikely way, growing up from the angsty teenagers from Riot!
and Brand New Eyes
and the happily confident young adults in their self-titled album to the self-introspective, fake smiles-wearing adults with internal struggles in this album. Just like I mentioned in my Riot!
review, Paramore already showcased that showcase that a great Emo record doesn’t have to contain heavy doses of dark melodrama like some peers do, and this time they yet again broke the convention of a brilliant Emo record(Even though I would not fancy calling After Laughter
strictly an Emo record). Yet this time, Paramore showed that a band being cathartically moody don’t need to have the adrenaline-driving punk energy to complement the lyrics, and they truly cried out their struggles in an unorthodox and colourful way without trying too hard and disposing the compelling qualities. They may throw away their emo-pop sound, but they are still emos at hearts, and Williams’ movingly relatable lyrics in this album that contemplates the poppy sounds are the evidence, cementing this album as their best since Brand New Eyes
or possibly Riot!
and one of the best album that 2017 offered us.