by Nylijah Barnes
Paramore seamlessly transitions from their old pop punk and emo sound (Riot, Brand New Eyes) to a more pop sound with their 2017 album After Laughter, littered with new wave influences across the board, notably in the songs “Hard Times” and “Rose Colored-Boy.” The group didn’t stray too far from their roots with “No Friends” which was darker and like past releases. Plenty of long time fans were unsure of their new sound back when their 2013 single “Ain’t It Fun” was released as the lead single from their album Self Titled. Despite the upbeat synths and brightly colored beats, the lyrics are more cynical and depressing, sounding as if lead singer Hayley Williams is smiling while tears are streaming down her face.
While the album opener and lead single “Hard Times” is a bittersweet song it is still the most hopeful on the album. The track focuses on the multiple hardships you face in your the lyrics are cheerful and reassuring “We’ll kick it when I hit the ground.” The second song from “Rose Colored-Boy” are about people who refuse to see the world for what it is and are overly optimistic and have unrealistic expectations on how to deal with life. On the track Williams encourages the boy she’s with to accept her as she is, including her sadness.
“Idle Worship” centers on the impossible expectations people have for Williams, from blind hero worship by fans to people around her who require her to be strong twenty four hours a day. “Hey baby I’m not your superhuman”, is repeated throughout to emphasize that Hayley is just as normal as the rest of us.Another cut “No Friends” is significantly, grittier instead featuring spoken word by Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou. His lyrics buried under darker inversions of the riffs from “Idle Worship,” allowing the preceding track to transition songs smoothly and serve as an outro. This also allows for the narrative of “Idle Worship” to continue, with “No Friends ” being more about the band reflecting on their past as a band and their struggle to love music again.
The entire album manages to capture that sort of manic happiness everyone is supposed to fake, whether they mean it or not, in order to make those around you feel better. The sound is similar to that of the song “Ain’t It Fun” from their 2013 album Self Titled, using bright, bouncy sounds behind more cynical lyrics. The sudden change in tone is mentioned throughout the album, the band looks back to past songs and project in the lyrics, (“26” and “No Friends”) and openly wants to be able to grow and change even if it means angering old fans who want the “old Paramore” back.
In a way Paramore is telling us they’re sick of people projecting what they want the band. They aren’t superhuman, they aren’t obligated to do anything for their fans, even if it means losing the ones who’ve been there since the beginning. In this album, Paramore feels to finally be humanizing themselves, they aren’t angry rockers or even fake popstars. They sound more comfortable than they’ve ever been, as if After Laughter was a relief for them to make. Although it’s drastically different from past releases (try comparing “Misery Business” to ‘Hard Times”… you can’t), there’s something about this album that feels more genuine than others.
Even though some may think it is unnatural, they simply are progressing from the angry teens they were during past albums to a mature outlook.
There’s still a certain hopeful feeling in the album, notably on the song “26” which is directed towards William’s younger self, telling herself to not give up any thread of hope she has, since it’s what keeps her going. By placing that song on a rather pessimistic album helps more clearly display the full range of emotions Williams experienced, even talking about mending her friendship with drummer Zac Farro in the song “Grudges”, who is just returning after leaving the band in 2010. This song is similar to “Ignorance” from their 2009 album Brand New Eyes. Thematically “Ignorance” was about hostility between the band members, “Grudges” is about overcoming past struggles and moving forward in their relationship.
After Laughter is definitely their most mature album to date and maybe even the best they’ve put out. Williams manages to process more complex emotions and look back on her past behavior, something her seventeen year old self couldn’t do. Williams expresses feelings of despondence and emptiness with such a wry tone, it almost feels wrong to be dancing and singing along to the album. Although stylistically different, Paramore manages to come back after a seven year hiatus without skipping a beat, it feels like the band has never left us.