In this case, “new” can mean a lot of different things.
In the almost eight years since Paramore released their debut LP, All We Know Is Falling, their sound has been described as emo, pop-punk, rock, post-grunge, alternative, and something called “emo metal”, according to Rolling Stone.
After streaming their self-titled fourth album over the course of four nights this week, I have tossed out all of those labels, because these three have managed to redefine who they are - and what Paramore’s music is all about – with one hell of an album.
Anyone who is likely to read this doesn’t need a history lesson about what Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Jeremy Davis have been through over the course of the last 4 or 5 years. Their third album, the incredible brand new eyes, was essentially an autobiographical tale of the band’s personal struggles with one another. While it concluded with a sense of hope (see “Looking Up” and “Where the Lines Overlap”), the band as it was constituted was fractured and could not move forward as a cohesive unit. When the dust settled, Hayley, Jeremy, and Taylor picked up the pieces and moved on.
When the threesome surfaced from the studio in late 2011 with four reflective songs that would eventually become their Singles Club, they declared their intention to put the past behind them and focus on the future of Paramore. The band remained open and honest with their fans, keeping us updated and taking us along for the ride as they set out to create their fourth album. They seemed reenergized and, above all else, happy. Guided by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Paramore entered an LA studio last summer determined to make the album they’ve always wanted to make. What they emerged with is their most ambitious, best-sounding, and universally satisfying body of work to date.
To try to describe Paramore as any one specific sound would be an exercise in futility. It samples from practically every genre of music under the sun, and features an incredibly diverse collection of instrumentation. The powerhouse lead single “Now” is traditional Paramore, as is the intense rockers “Be Alone” and “Part II” (as in, the sequel to 2007’s “Let the Flames Begin”). “Last Hope” and “Daydreaming” find the band paying homage to 90’s alterative acts with subtle verses and big crescendos. Did you know that before they joined Paramore, Hayley and Jeremy were in a funk band? Listen to “Ain’t It Fun,” the sure-hit groover that finds Jeremy and Hayley channeling Bootsy Collins and Mariah Carey, respectively, and you’ll understand.
Paramore is definitely much more of a pop album than some (less open-minded) fans may care for. But even these “pop” songs (“Fast In My Car,” “Still Into You,” “Grow Up,” and the aforementioned “Ain’t It Fun”) are too well-crafted and, frankly, too substantive to be lumped in with the countless other Top 40 acts du jour. Whether it was JMJ’s influence or Taylor’s songwriting ambition, this album features synthesizers…lots of them. But the keyboards manage to bolster the songs listenability without interfering with them, which is impressive considering the band never recorded with them before.
Paramore’s most valuable asset, Hayley’s voice, has never sounded better. Her face-melting wails are balanced by the album’s three ukulele - accompanied interludes and the gentle and beautiful “Hate to See Your Heart Break.” Lyrically, Hayley has put the band’s new outlook in the forefront. The overarching theme of this record is “when shit happens, pick yourself up and move forward, because there is a lot more life to live.”
For me, Paramore’s only real misstep - and I am admittedly nitpicking - is the organization of some the songs.The interludes are catchy, but the breezy “Holiday” wedged in between the Blink 182-inspred punk burst of “Anklebiters” and the Riot!/brand new eyes hybrid stomper “Proof” seemed to disrupt momentum. Also, “(One of Those) Crazy Girls,” which is a cross between the Ronettes and Weezer, seemed a little out of place toward the end of the record, and may become lost in the shuffle.
Nevertheless, Paramore is a sterling effort that the band and their adoring fans can be proud of. They’ve been through a lot, especially for a group of twenty-somethings who will undoubtedly continue to evolve and adapt. The end result is a collection of 17 songs that offers something for everyone. It is ambitious and traditional, insouciant and focused, fist-pumping and tender.
A while back, Paramore left us as a troubled quintet seemingly pulling in opposite directions. They have reintroduced themselves as a refreshed, rededicated, and resilient trio of damn good musicians, moving on together, for one another, and for their fans.