The pop rock outfit Paramore has achieved much success since forming in 2004 from the otherwise country-booming land of Tennessee. At the band’s conception members were very young: Hayley Williams fifteen, and drummer Zac Farro only twelve. The other Farro, brother Josh, also young and was the original singer of the band, hesitant to allow Williams to front the group since he was “edgy on the whole female vocalist thing.” Paramore quickly came to their senses however and Williams began fronting the band, granting them immediate success from recording label Fueled By Ramen.
Paramore’s debut record All We Know Is Falling saw a mixture of criticism, even though many fans see this as their most solid album and the one with best flow compared to the band’s other discography. The band experienced their first hit with “Pressure.”
It wasn’t until Paramore’s sophomore release, Riot! that the band experienced real success.
The album exploded onto the pop rock, emo scene and many critics hailed the album as solely that, a “scene classic.” Yet Paramore fans generally favor Riot! over any other release, seeing it as the band at their most fierce in song composure and raw lyricism, all fronted by clear, pop vocalization from lovable Williams. Several singles were produced: “Crushcrushcrush,” “That’s What You Get” and “Misery Business” still being Paramore fan favorites. Possibly if not for Williams fronting the band, Paramore would not have stood out amongst the many other pop rock outfits of the 2000’s.
Brand New Eyes saw the band finding a perfect blend for their style; great introspective tracks focused more on stronger lyricism and vulnerability found in Williams’ vocals, and harder rock tracks setting an urgent tone bursting throughout the record beginning with album opener “Careful”. Shortly following Brand New Eyes members Zac and Josh Farro left the band, and the lack of the brothers’ chemistry is heard plainly on Paramore’s following eponymous release.
Fourth record, Paramore, saw the band taking a more pop-than-rock styling, with only one major single seeing fan success in “Ain’t It Fun.” The production is sloppy and because of new band members the chemistry feels off. This new direction however is what Paramore decided to stick with because the band’s newest release, After Laughter, is another pop record with rock on the back burner.
After Laughter is damn fun. But that’s about all it has going for it. After Laughter is like spending a weekend of debauchery with an old high school pal, filled with laughs and wild partying only to wake up come Monday with a hangover and a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.
After Laughter is filled with infectious hooks, colorful instrumentation from the vibrant synth beats, some calypso flavoring found especially on opening track “Hard Times,” and some introverted tracks to balance the overtly-pop attack from first half of record. If the entire record was produced as effectively as the albums first few songs, it would have been a terrific release and possibly the band’s best. Sadly though, the album is all over the place.
On “Fake Happy,” it was apparently necessary to have a quick ‘lo-fi’ beginning to the track with slightly out of tune acoustic guitar and muffled-but-not-muffled vocals, followed by an immediate bounce into more of the keyboard and synth beats, completely altering the track’s beginning direction. I admire the idea of this, and artists like Beck can pull it off flawlessly, Paramore cannot.
“26” would have been a much better closing track to After Laughter than the one they chose, “Tell Me How” which is the worst song to be heard on the album. “26” is a strong, meditative track, building from acoustic guitar and elegant vocals to soft layering of violins and bright instrumentation. It would have closed the album beautifully, yet for some reason “Tell Me How” made the cut; a song so awkward it hurts. It tries so hard to be sentimental, opening with piano even, yet the vocalization production on the track is too much. The lyrics and especially chorus were clearly made as a pop song, the vocals are entirely too clean to be paired with the stripped music background. It feels uncomfortable to listen to, especially for an album spot as holy as the closing track.
For the majority of After Laughter the songs are fun and infectious, filled with dancy grooves, ’80s vibes, and even shining guitar riffs from the rock track “Caught In the Middle.” Yet the production value keeps slipping the further one listens into the album, leaving a mixed perception at listener’s end.
On “Idle Worship” the song is simply a concert track. The song is weak and filled with enough “la la la’s” and “ay ay ay’s” to make a person sick. It seems the song’s purpose is to be played live, sure to be fun audience participation.
My last quarrel is with “No Friend.” I’m really not sure what the band was going for here, it tries to be psychedelic without committing, and it tries to stay grounded in pop rock without committing either. It’s in limbo of being good from either side of the sound spectrum. I believe Paramore was going for a psychedelic trip of a song that many great bands have done before them. For example The Beatles’ “Revolution #9,” Velvet Underground’s “Murder Mystery” or even Pearl Jam’s “Stupid Mop.” However what Paramore was achieving for here fell flat, right on its face.
Aside from rough production pieces and substance lacking on After Laughter, the album is still a fun listen. This is Paramore’s best pop record yet, and it even saw the return of drummer Zac Farro. It reminded me of Carly Rae Jepsen’s EMOTION album and a little The Killers vibe too.
Although Paramore may change their sound as much as Hayley Williams changes hair color, one aspect has always remained true throughout their discography: their honesty in delivery and love for what they create.