You’d be forgiven for adding Paramore to the clichéd list of wayward sons who have decided to leave the anthems and moshpits that decorate the halls of Rock music for the shinier new toy that is a chart-topping, money making Pop number, as more than a fair share of their contemporaries have done recently. Linkin Park have been the most infamous casualty, while Coldplay seem to be reaping the benefits from critics, fans as well as their ATMs as they ‘diversify’ into a new direction. Any Rock band therefore has an unexpected, undesired and unenviable dilemma – whether to stay true to their roots and stick to what made them popular in the first place, or to keep up with the times and produce what sells. It has proven to be a very fine line and making the wrong decision generally does not end up very kindly.
It seemed to be a brave decision thus when after the departure of two of the founding members, the Farro brothers, Hayley Williams decided to tip-toe the fine line in all her finesse but ended up with a record that appealed neither to the Remainers, nor the Exiteers. Even the Grammy award-winning hit Ain’t It Fun and numbers like Still Into You and Now could only manage to divide the fanbase further as Paramore tried to please both sides of the great divide but ended up with neither.
The reports of the demise of Paramore would be untimely though, as delayed as they might have been in achieving the milestone targeted for the 2012 self-titled album. With After Laughter, maturity seems to be the flavour as the band seem to come to an uncomfortable acceptance of the high-profile, much-maligned exits of past members. The timing of the return of longtime drummer Zac Farro could not have been better as Paramore finally choose to shed off the Punk Rock persona and settle into the grooves of 80s new wave music. This was probably what they had aimed for with Paramore, but the efforts have finally come to fruition a few years later.
The first single to be released from the album, Hard Times, kicks off the album in an upbeat mood. The lyrics set the tone for the rest of the tracks, with disappointment and regret being the general theme, as Hayley wonders about the ‘little rain cloud, hanging over my head’. The music and instrumentation will hardly let you focus on that though, as the 80s new wave synth-pop sound weaves its magic in the foreground. The track is almost reminiscent of Ain’t It Fun, with its bubbly music sugar-coating the coming-of-age lyrics describing the difficulties of adulthood. The song ends with background vocals fit to feature on any Daft Punk album, and the whole package, with its annoyingly addictive chorus, makes for a very good opener. Rose Coloured Boy is another rather flamboyant track with an eccentric, high pitched backing chorus that shouts “low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather!”, built on the base of some strong vocals. This is where Paramore seem to have thrown all caution to the wind and to have really settled their nerves into the new style of music they now find themselves so comfortable with.
This album is not all about a change of direction though, as tracks like Told You So and Idle Worship would not have been misfits on Paramore’s previous releases. Both of them are as fast-paced as they probably could have been, without descending into the chaotic anarchy reminiscent of Misery Business and crushcrushcrush, and make for very good listens.
The two ballads on the record, 26 and Fake Happy, are akin to modern day-Paramore versions of The Only Exception, with the former featuring lyrics like “…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” floating on a cotton candy cloud of acoustic guitar sweetened by Williams’ voice. The contrast is also evident in the latter track, with Hayley’s gorgeous vocals providing shape and form to the lyrics “I’m gonna draw my lipstick wider than my mouth/And if the lights are low they’ll never see me frown,” from the gently rolling Fake Happy.
The album finishes strongly, but the penultimate track No Friend will undoubtedly divide opinion the most. The strangest track to find its way into a Paramore album by far, the track features spoken word from Aaron Weiss of MewithoutYou, in keeping with the general theme of the album, and with a similar doom and gloom outlook. Tell Me How is the sprint at the end of the last lap of the album, with Williams’ energetic vocals showing what Paramore has been all about – even when the situation is dire, they go about it with a smile on their faces.
The album feels like the effort of a band finding the comfort and warmth in their new home, and while this might not be their best album, it gives a good idea of the direction the band is headed in, being bloody good while at it all along.
Essential listens – Hard Times, Told You So, Idle Worship