With yet another change in line-up, Paramore are back with their fifth studio album After Laughter. Following Jeremy Davis’s departure, Hayley Williams and Taylor York are re-joined by Zac Farro, one of the founding members of the band who previously left alongside brother Josh in 2010. With this new line-up comes a whole new style and sound, building on their previous poppy efforts ‘Ain’t It Fun’ and ‘Still Into You’.
The new wave, 1980s influence flows through the album, most notably on singles ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Told You So’. Not only does it demonstrate the band’s versatility but also cements their new status as an indie pop band, leaving their emo roots behind with tropical beats and CHVRCHES-style production; the second single in particular could be seen as a fight back against all their past critics, and boy, does it work. Particular highlights on the album come in the form of ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ and ‘Idle Worship’. While the former seems to be a summery slice of pop on the surface, is in fact a plea for Williams to be able to embrace her pessimistic attitude in the face of ‘wars raging on’ and being more realistic in the world of today. In particular, it works well due to its super-duper catchy opening refrain: ‘low key, no pressure / just hang with me in my weather’. Like ‘Hard Times’, it subverts what could have been a much darker subject with a much more poppy tone. ‘Idle Worship’ tows the same line, tackling the issue of celebrity culture and the pressure felt to be the perfect idol for fans, challenging Paramore fans to ‘put your faith in something more’ and to stop putting people like Williams on a pedestal. It is honest, refreshing and written carefully enough to not come across in a harsh manner and alienate their biggest fans. ‘Pool’ includes jangly rhythms and yet more new wave-style drum beats, once again subverting a deeper topic – this time, drowning in the metaphorical wave of a lover who can never be tamed – with a carefree, pop sound.
Where the album falls short is in some of its slower numbers. Both ‘Fake Happy’ and ’26’, while both likeable songs, come across as fairly trite. ‘Fake Happy’ is just about salvaged with a fabulous keyboard production, but is perhaps one of the more despondent of the tracks on offer. These tracks don’t necessarily fit in with the much happier, upbeat outlook Paramore seem to be projecting. What’s more, ‘No Friend’ is perhaps one of the weirdest inclusions within Paramore’s entire discography, not just After Laughter. With Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou speaking mutedly over a stirring, dark melody, the lyrics are stark, dark and truthful, and perhaps the band’s prime demonstration to fans that they haven’t fully forgotten the band they used to be.
The album ends with the only proper ballad on the entire tracklist, ‘Tell Me How’. Ending an album like After Laughter on a ballad is, on the one hand, perhaps odd for some listeners given Paramore’s shift to funk and techno pop displayed so well in the opening numbers. However, on the other hand, it being the final track demonstrates perhaps how far they’ve come as a band. They’ve matured, they’ve grown, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve had their ups and downs and this all comes together on the final track. Hayley Williams sings over a beautiful piano melody, ‘tell me how to feel about you now / let me know / do I suffocate or let go?’. She sings with raw pain; her vocal range is shown off completely.
In one sense, the mixed bag of tracks on After Laughter could symbolise the name of the album itself, it taking us through a whirlwind of emotions, the majority of which the band have themselves faced. However, what can be said for sure is that Paramore’s latest evolution in style has been their best move yet, and in turn has seen them release one of the strongest pop albums of the year thus far.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]
Photo credit: DIY