Another album, another lineup. Paramore drops their 5th album with yet another roster, yet what makes them shine has remained the same. Frontwoman Hayley Williams has always been the band’s driving force and what sets them apart from nearly every other alternative band that arose in the pop punk/Warped Tour scene during the mid-aughts. Their last release, 2013’s Paramore, was seen by many as a reintroduction to the band, veering away from the angsty emo pop while going in a more new wave and (GASP!) pop direction without losing any of the sing-a-long appeal they’ve always had. This time around on After Laughter, Paramore have taken what they tinkered with on S/T hits such as “Ain’t It Fun” and ran with it. The album is full of synth-laden tropical vibes with jangle pop tendencies, but the songs themselves are quite different than the atmosphere surrounding them.
Paramore have always seemed to have drama follow them wherever they go; for a band that grew up in a scene so dominated by it I suppose it comes with the territory. Paramore was a joyous explosion of bright futures and hope – a direct response to the 2010 departure of founding members Josh and Zac Farro. It was a punch to the gut, especially since they left a scathing blog post that dragged the band, specifically Williams, of being nothing more than a ‘product of a major label.’ While Zac did come back midway through recording last year, another founding member, bassist Jeremy Davis, left in an even more nasty method: opting to sue the band over royalties (the band and Davis have since settled). All this and more is present on After Laughter, where Williams bares it all amidst sunny backgrounds.
Opening track and lead single “Hard Times” gives us the first taste of what this new edition of Paramore is like. Beginning with an island-like guitar lick, Williams wastes no time telling us how she’s feeling. “All that I want, is to wake up fine/Tell me that I’m alright, that i ain’t gonna die,” she opens. This type of pleading, hopeless songwriting is nothing new for Paramore – their debut album All We Know Is Falling is full of it – but never before have the compositions been so different compared to the lyrics. “Fake Happy” follows the same formula, where amidst bubbly synths and victorious guitars, Williams describes how tired she is of putting on a fake smile all the time. On “Caught in the Middle,” the band wants us to dance to the sound of depression and failure. “I don’t need no help/I can sabotage me by myself,” she whimsically sings without a care in the world.
Near the end of the album we hear some of the best songwriting the group has ever had. “Idle Worship” is a post pop number that depicts Williams as a normal woman, unworthy of the praise that is too often bestowed upon her by the band’s fanbase. “Oh, it’s such a long and awful lonely fall/Down from this pedestal that you keep putting me on,” she spats. Williams’ awareness on this album is sky high, as nothing gets by her in the songs. “Hey baby, I’m not your superhuman,” she says on the hook. The next track is definitely the most off-kilter song the band has ever made, opting to use mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss to tell the story of the band in a poetic fashion, using words and phrases from past Paramore songs to do it. It’s fitting that it comes right after “Idle Worship,” as it expands on the theme the song before possesses. “I see myself in the reflection of people’s eyes/Realising what they see may not be even close to the image in myself,” Weiss sings inaudibly, as his vocals are low in the mix. It’s an almost daring thing to say, as they’re basically admitting that they’re nothing like what the fans see them as. However, it works because it’s an honest admission of humility, and judging from the vocal delivery of both songs, it seems they’ve been wanting to get it off their chests for awhile.
Depression, self-guilt, relationship problems… Paramore get it all of their chest and more on After Laughter. If Paramore is the celebratory victory lap from getting through a tumultous time as a band, AL is the much-needed self-reflection from just-as-difficult and more personal hardships. With the best lyrics they’ve ever written, the record gives listeners a detailed look at what it’s like to have a late-20s identity crisis, and what it can feel like when you finally face it head on. Whether or not Paramore stick to this new sound or try something new, one thing’s for sure: I’ll definitely be looking forward to it.
8.2 – 10