Paramore is (still) a band.
That much is clear after listening to their latest album After Laughter. Despite the uncertainty of losing a founding member and bassist Jeremy Davis in December 2015, and bringing back original drummer Zac Farro, there remains an absolute togetherness that has always defined Paramore.
After Laughter is a record that initially fills you with butterflies, fairy lights, and multicoloured balloons, but on closer listening it takes you on a journey through the darkness that has been front woman Hayley Williams’ mind. Following the release of the first single Hard Times, there were questions about this new route that the band seemed to be going down, which only escalated once they released the video for Told You So a week later. And sure, when you compare it to tracks from 2005’s All We Know Is Falling, and even 2009’s Brand New Eyes, it definitely fits under a different genre, but to say that that is in anyway bad would be massively unfair and, in my humble opinion, totally wrong.
The first three tracks set the tone for the whole album, as the happy-sad song Hard Times is followed by Rose-Coloured Boy – another total bop about becoming completely cynical and wanting to revel in it for a while – and Told You So – the second pre-release from the album. These three are a forewarning that there won’t be a whole lot of good vibes going on, and yet you’ll probably (definitely) end up dancing at one point or another. It’s a total contradiction but is unquestionably brilliant. Hayley herself summed it up perfectly when she Tweeted:
Forgiveness is along the same vein thematically, but it is the first time the music itself sounds anything less than immediately downright delightful. Rather than a hot summer’s day spent splashing around in the ocean, it’s more like chilling on the beach having a cider while you watch the sun go down, and as a result, there is no avoiding the issue with a raging dance party of one. It forces reflection, something which only continues as the record moves on to Fake Happy, perhaps my current favourite on the record, slowing things down even more as Hayley considers all those smiles she just doesn’t mean. Regardless of whether you’ve experienced depression before, this feels like one of the most relatable concepts on the record, because there are so many occasions in life where you have to pretend to be okay to just get through the day.
It might be a bit crushing to think that everyone around you is lying about being alright, but redemption is found in 26 as we see a little hope and motivation in the form of this stripped back, acoustic masterpiece. Beautifully accompanied by strings, the lyrics take us down a road of pain and hurt with a chorus that acknowledges that there might just be something worth holding onto.
“Hold onto hope, if you’ve got it. Don’t let it go for nobody. They say that dreamin’ is free, I wouldn’t care what it cost me.”
The pace picks back up again with Pool, which, contrary to what you might expect from Paramore, is the first (kind of) love song on the record, presumably written about Hayley’s husband, Chad Gilbert. It seems to address experiencing depression and the effects it has on a relationship; how your trust may falter but ultimately they’re still there to stop you from sinking any lower. The hopefulness continues as they lead us into Grudges – an ode to Zac Farro and forgetting the time spent angry and bitter after he and his brother Josh left the band prior to the release of Brand New Eyes. It’s an extremely mature outlook for someone who is still comfortably in her 20s, and for the fans of old, it’ll certainly provoke a tear or two as we realise how they’ve come full circle.
Paramore bring the funk with what might be the catchiest track on the record, Caught in the Middle, during which Hayley figures out that while it was undoubtedly hard to lose what Paramore was, moving on to what Paramore now is, was essential. It is tracks such as this that make you realise how lucky we are that this band is even still making new music, and slaps us across the face with the reality that we might have been left to live in a world where Paramore ended with Self-Titled. On top of all the political tragedies that have hit us this past year, I really don’t think we could have handled another nail in the coffin that is our optimism. So while it’s hard to hear of the tribulations that this band went through, I am just glad that we do get to hear it.
“I can’t think of getting old, it only makes me want to die.”
Idle Worship is, in every single way, definitely a stand out. It brings out tones in Hayley’s voice that we’re not used to, and for those few minutes we have no choice but to think about how versatile she is as a vocalist, and what magic she brings to an industry where so many voices blend into one another. Not only that, but it highlights how much pressure there must be to be someone’s idol, and how despite just being a normal person that makes mistakes, she (and the rest of Paramore) are still very much put on a pedestal that must be hard to live up to. The unusual tones that we hear in the verses lead seamlessly into No Friend, a 3 and a half-minute track that is entirely devoid of Hayley’s vocals – again bringing attention to the fact that this is a band and all members are important. The lyrics are hard to make out, and they run like spoken-word poetry or a reel of internal consciousness. All of it bitter, all of it self-critical, it’s one of the most interesting things that Paramore have ever released, and its honesty is commendable.
The record closes with the heartbreaking loss that is Tell Me How. Mainly accompanied solely by a piano, this is one of those songs that will have all of the phone lights and the last of the world’s Zippos pulled out at live shows, lighting up our faces just enough to see the tears roll down our cheeks as we struggle to sing the words through the lumps in our throats. Like pretty much every song on this record, there’s a way to relate it to your own life. We’ve all missed someone and spent our time hoping that they’re missing us too; wondering how we can, or even if we should, get over them. It’s a stunning conclusion to a heartfelt, honest, and contemplative album.
“I can’t call you a stranger, but I can’t call you. I know you think that I erased you. You may hate me, but I can’t hate you. And I won’t replace you.”
Paramore have always made an explicit effort to connect with their fans. But with the release of After Laughter, the band created a reciprocal relationship that hasn’t existed before. The three members have changed, they’ve grown, they’ve been through a hell of a lot of shit, and all of it has brought them here: to their best album yet.