Paramore have never been the type to confine themselves to easily-definable categories – they are a truly genre-neutral band, whose members change from tour to tour and are always in flux. Yet despite the constant shifts in sound, vision and image their identity remains strongly intact. Paramore’s discography represents a transition – a journey of self-discovery and emotional catharsis, that concludes in the latest chapter: After Laughter. Paramore have transcended the constraints of musical definition and this album takes huge leaps to depart from their sound of the past fifteen years. Yet despite the sharp juxtaposition of this record to its predecessors, we are not shutting the door on the punk-rock, power riffs that characterised Paramore’s adolescence. Instead, we are embracing their musical awakening – it is time to appreciate the shimmering, synth-heavy, 80s-pop inspired tunes that earmark a new phase of Paramore’s open-ended journey.
After Laughter, Paramore’s fifth LP, was released on May 12th 2017 and features the singles Hard Times and Told You So. The record bravely ventures into new sounds and unexplored genres, yet the execution is so slick it’s easy to forget that this album is a follow up from the punchy rock melodies that characterised their previous records. The album feels partly like a tribute to the Golden 80s era of synth-heavy, energetic, rhythmic anthems, and the band cite the likes of Blondie, Talking Heads and The Bangles as their inspiration. Yet the fluid grooves and hypnotic lyrics in After Laughter are in their own musical realm – this album is all about breaking boundaries and surpassing classification, and so it stands strong on its own without comparison.
Instead, we are embracing their musical awakening – it is time to appreciate the shimmering, synth-heavy, 80s-pop inspired tunes that earmark a new phase of Paramore’s open-ended journey.
A large amount of this musical revision is down to guitarist Taylor York who is one of the primary songwriters of Paramore, and often cited as the reason they are still together, and he lays a lot of the musical groundwork. Heavily textured riffs and reverb are symptomatic of York, and it is clear that great care is put into crafting every single layer. The result is a crisp, cohesive melody accompanied by intricate rhythms from drummer Zac Farro, and raw, powerhouse vocals from lead singer Hayley Williams.
It is hard to fully dive into After Laughter without a basic understanding of the context and history surrounding the creation of the album, and this contextual enlightenment adds an extra dimension to the lyrics marking them as exceptionally relatable. The construction of After Laughter feels like a compendium of the band’s personal history – over the years, there have been lawsuits, members have left and rejoined and friendships have been tried and tested. Hayley has subsequently spoken of her self-doubt and battles with anxiety and depression, and the dark lyrics behind bubblegum-pop, shimmery singles like Hard Times and Fake Happy are a testimony to the creative outlet that music can provide. Her strength emanates in every word she sings, and her voice conveys a tone of vulnerability yet also undeniable robustness.
The undercurrent theme that runs throughout the album is the concept of maturity – of growing up and changing (mirrored by their musical evolution) and of viewing hardships in life as formative in shaping the person you have become. The first single on the album, Hard Times, is a charming, light, poppy tune littered with marimba-jingles and crunchy hi-hat grooves. However, the song’s lyrics are a testimony to hitting ‘rock bottom‘ – Hayley yearns for a ‘hole in the ground‘ to dig herself into, until it’s ‘alright for [her] to come out‘. She is bravely accounting that feeling that so many of us identify with but are often too apprehensive to confront – a feeling of inescapable hopelessness. The universality of this feeling is explored in Fake Happy – an indie-electronic ballad, which acts as a form of sonic catharsis – the chorus, with it’s impossibly catchy hooks, implores you to sing along and feel the weight of the lyrics. The accompanying music video, directed and produced by Farro, reinforces the meaning of the words. We watch Williams dance jubilantly around New York City, amidst a utopian sea of anonymous, ‘fake happy’ faces. Yet at the end she turns around to reveal an identical ‘fake happy’ face – ‘oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too‘. We may be be projecting artifical displays of happiness for the sake of social convention – but we are not alone in doing so.
There is a time and place for appreciating older records, but now is the time to embrace change.
The album takes a sharp narrative turn with Idle Worship and No Friend (which was originally intended as an outro to Idle Worship). We continue to explore the theme of maturity but this time through the band’s opinion of the idolatry of musicians in society. Paramore have matured as a band, but so too has their outlook (and scepticism) of the industry. Idle Worship shows off some of Williams’ most impressive vocals on the record, and when put against the echoing gravelly melody it stands out to me as one of the most striking songs on the album. Hayley criticises the godlike status that is ascribed to artists: “We all need heroes don’t we? But rest assured there’s not a single person here who’s worthy” – she also uses religious metaphors to hammer home a message of stark reality. As much as the band appreciates the adoration and outpouring of love that fans supply, it is tiresome to constantly be placed on a pedestal and subsequently be met with expectations that are impossible to achieve. They are only human. Part of life is accepting our flaws and imperfections. The follow up to this track, ‘No Friend‘ is a mind-boggling work of musical genius – featuring the vocals of Aaron Weiss (of the band mewithoutYou). It is an emotional spoken-word piece performed over an experimental discordant guitar and bass track. The lyrics are ambiguous and complex, but there are mirrored motifs and echoes with Idle Worship that seem to suggest that the song is also alluding to the notion that it is dangerous to idolise musicians with blind faith – we all have our personal demons and we need to unite in our collective human-ness rather than raise individuals to an impossible standard. There are many lyrical references to past songs that imply that No Friend is a nostalgic look back at Paramore’s history – an exciting and turbulent journey with plenty of twists and turns.
But although the band may have been through periods of uncertainty and flux, one thing has remained certain throughout. Paramore are not ones to give up without a fight, and the strength of the relationship between the current members is a testimony to the far-reaching depths of true friendship. In their latest live shows, the band have never looked happier and the radiant smiles bursting from the band were echoed enthusiastically by those in the crowd. Growing up has not been easy for the fans either, but the feeling of going through personal pain and troubles and emerging on the other end is a triumph that is encapsulated perfectly in this record. One must ignore and disregard the voices crying out about the ‘old Paramore’ and reminiscing too heavily on the pop-punk soundtrack of their youth. There is a time and place for appreciating older records, but now is the time to embrace change. Paramore has matured and grown up and evolved into brand new shades, yet their fundamental identity shines stronger than ever.