After laughter: That brief moment when the excitement settles, and reality sets in. How appropriate.
Do you believe in double takes? Because that’s probably what you gave, my friends, a double take. New members? Check. Crazy colors on every item they touch? Check. Haley’s trademarked crazy hair turned white? Check. Their traditional punk sound traded-in for a more pop and indie 80’s (and even 90’s) experience? Double check. So, this IS Paramore, correct? To be certain. But in perhaps a whole new light, fashion, direction, and yes, that is the point. All these things represent a new start, a clean slate, and a fresh experience for a 13-year-old band, who all started in their late teens. You see, they’ve grown up, they’ve broken up, they’ve nearly called it quits, but yet they’re here still. Why? How? For what purpose? It’s hard to say, but that’s some of the juicy appeal in this fifth studio album. And it’s all helmed by the one and only Hayley Williams, and her ever spunky attitude.
You see, for many reasons, this album seems to be a personal journey for Hayley. One can’t help but wonder, by the mere ratio of the band members comings and goings, if she’s impossible to work with or not. She’s been accused of no-less. Yet, you can tell through the journey taken here that she’s far from oblivious to it all. You could in fact say that she’s been going through some, *ahem*, Hard Times. And incidentally enough, she opens the album with such a report. One which willfully admits she often ponders if life is truly worth living through the difficulty of it all. She even goes as far as to essentially beg her friends to stick around a little longer, knowing she’ll one day get through this tiresome slump. But it must not be an easy slump to bypass. You see, she goes on to tell how she is often times a very negative person. So much in fact that in Rose-Colored Boy, she discusses how overly happy people just get under her skin (and as always, her cynical wit is at the frontline). She discusses in Told You So the difficulty of always having people eagerly point out your mistakes. But perhaps the main emphasis of the album, involving all this difficulty, is in part her perspective of the band members who jumped ship, perused their own careers, and even tried to make life difficult for her and Taylor (the other remaining member) on their way out the door. That’s why she grudgingly admits in Forgiveness that, said action, feels often like an impossible task.
And so, what is she left with? Well, as the intro goes and warns, Hard Times. That’s why she goes on to say she feels herself incapable of feeling authentic joy in Fake Happy (another display of her sarcastic witticism). And it is perhaps why she’s often depressed when thinking of growing older in Caught in the Middle. You see, while these include the entire band, this really seems to be a tragic and difficult journey for Hayley. The co-members themselves revealed how they could see the darkness of the times and dealings transcend to her lyrics. You’d think such bleak times and incidents would furthermore transcend into dark, melancholy, and dreary musical tones. But that’s the catch, my dear reader, this has all been served to us in what often happens to be the most snappy, groovy, and gleeful 80’s and 90’s homage we’ve experienced in quite some time. Strange, isn’t it?
Let us break aside for a moment and discuss the musical journey Paramore presents. They have historically been known and loved (by yours truly) for their consistent ear-pleasing melodies and full throttle energy on display in the majority of their songs, and even albums for that matter. Looking to their previous Self-Titled in fact, you notice that it is a boisterous and epic album, in both scale and diversity. Not so much here. We find ourselves oddly enough with a more restraint, laid back, synthetic, and hip Paramore. Essentially, long gone are the hard rock anthems, and even to a lesser extent, Hayley’s powerhouse vocals. For many, this is a deal breaker if ever there was one. Yet, if given the appropriate opportunity, you’ll see a group not just shaking things up for radio’s sake, but rather maturity with tone, content, and direction. In short, they admirably fully commit themselves to this new sound and slate, and they do so in style, in music videos, in album cover, and in cool and retro vibes. And let me tell you, what makes this album so rich and repeatable is just how vibey it is (about the silliest, yet most true ways I am able to define it). They kick off in the first 3 tracks (the sheer highlight of the album) with a very harmonious and singular old school-electric vibe. Hard Times has a constant beat and jive that creates the most addicting and summer-sounding song I’ve experienced all year. Rose-Colored Boy goes full Gwen Stefani-esque with some classic cheers, but makes for the catchiest song of the album. And Told You So has a constant and rhythmic beat and guitar strum that just sticks with you, and even hints at the darker transition the album denotes.
From there on, we enter into a bit of a back and forth, up and down sound, all the while remaining dedicated to the incredible aesthetic Paramore has fabricated. The lighter tones can be found in the slow-building and instantly captivating Fake Happy, the 90’s girl-band sounding Pool, and by far the best guitar strumming tunes of Caught In The Middle. In fact, it should be noted that while the hard-rock aspect is absent, Taylor York still brings a striking electric guitar infusion to many of the melodies, and keeps them tied to their roots (contrary to what other sad examples of Punk Artists have done lately, *cough* Fall Out Boy *cough). The only ones that don’t entirely work are No Friend (a mostly instrumental balled) and, at times, Idle Worship. A song that, while still trying to stay true to the overall feeling, seems to initially cross the line with some off-putting beats and vocals. It’s interesting then, that when the chorus hits, it is the most traditional and perhaps catchy the entire album has. Not all things are bright and vibrant, though. Forgiveness, while working as an incredible transitional song, takes things down a notch in the opening act. 26, while perhaps the most misaligning tune, has an equally old-school Stevie Nicks sound (much like their brilliant In the Mourning) that works splendidly. Finally, a deep and heartfelt album closer, Tell Me How, which still sounds fresh, uniform, and emotional. It is also nicely enough, an opportunity for Hayley to truly use her pipes (along with Fake Happy and Rose-Colored Boy, I’d say) to bring sincerity, desperation, and even hints of hope to the forefront.
Yet, it’s the contrasting moods and tones that we find perhaps the pinnacle of the album. Because behind William’s negativity, sarcasm, and perhaps narcissism, she seems to be fully aware these feelings can’t stay, something must happen. So, just as sweeping emotion departs from your body, leaving only reality present, so perhaps Paramore is left with an ultimatum. Continue and do what you can, or die. These thoughts can be summarized and gleaned in songs such as Idle Worship. Where her word play demonstrates a plea for people not idly give into idol worship in regards to celebrities. She’s the first to admit she doesn’t have her act together. It can be seen in the display of reconciliation in the song Grudges (a song which features the word bas***d). Where she recalls the feeling and even awkwardness that ensued when past member Zac reentered the scene, and they chose to look to the future together. It is seen in her ballad to love in Pool (an admittedly darker picture of love than most pop songs). It is seen in the desire for future and peace from past quarrels in the final Tell Me How. Finally, it is seen in 26, a song where it seems Hayley is perhaps waging war within herself, by begging and encouraging her (younger?) self to never let go of the possibilities of life.
So, did you double take? Are you in the right place? I hope so. Sure, this new and adventurous take on our beloved Paramore can be troubling, but so can all new things. Yet still, it can be enduring, respectable, and even exciting to see a group grow up, make peace with the past, admit faults, and start a brand new journey. And on top of it, if you let yourself be immersed in this journey, you’ll find a spunky, cool, and picturesque jammin’ album for the summer. Now, get over your laughter, and get back to reality.