After an over four year wait between studio albums, the Alternative/Pop Rock/Pop Punk goliath Paramore, consisting now of singer/keyboardist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and returning drummer Zac Farro, return with their fifth studio album entitled ‘After Laughter.’ The sound on this album strays even further from the band’s original punk sound with the inclusion of synths, spacey, almost electronic, drumming, and a complete lack of anything punk; made abundantly clear by the ten -give or take- synth-driven songs where a guitar plays only a supporting role on this otherwise electropop album. The lyrics, on the other hand, are pretty typical for Paramore, but there are slight differences which can be described as: “Hold the angst, and double the melodrama.”
Though most of these songs are rather upbeat and happy sounding, the lyrical themes are ones of sadness as Hayley writes about the band’s hard times (pun intended) since the release of their 2013 self-titled album. Such include the departure of longtime bassist Jeremy Davis and the numerous talks between York and Williams on potentially ending the band. Hayley spoke to iHeartRadio about the title of the new album, “After Laughter is about the look on people’s faces when they’re done laughing. If you watch somebody long enough, there’s always this look that comes across their face when they’re done smiling, and I always find it really fascinating to wonder what it is that brought them back to reality.” The first single entitled “Hard Times” was released on April 19th, while the second, “Told You So,” was released two weeks later on May 3rd.
The lead single “Hard Times” rekindled an interest I had in the band after just listening to their breakout hit, you know the one, over 2016’s summer; while Told You So completely set the fire ablaze. Just like that I turned into one of those die hard -I’m gonna say it- Parawhores waiting for the new album. So here we are with ‘After Laughter,’ a collection of synth pop songs that stick out like a sore thumb in the band’s catalog. A thumb that is both refreshing and stale as the sound of this album can wear on a person after repeated listens. Though give it up to Paramore for actually trying to add more diversity to this album as heard in the intro of “Fake Happy,” “26,” and “Tell Me How;” there is just too much of the glossy production, spacey, upstroked guitars and glitzy electronics that makes this album best suited when you don’t try to experience it all in one sitting. I mean, I loved That Poppy’s debut EP. I didn’t want a whole album worth of it. ‘After Laughter’ is at least less trying than their debut ‘All We Know is Falling,’ so that’s something.
But as far the individual songs go, this album ranks with the best the band has to offer. In typical Paramore fashion, the singles for this album are two of the best tracks on it. Both songs feature Taylor York playing a supportive role as he goes up and down scales, all while being mixed slightly above Hayley’s signature voice as she powers through a catchy feel-good melody singing about how hard she’s been having it as of late. Once you’ve heard the singles, you’ve basically heard the majority of the album. But I implore you to stick around to hear what my favorite section of the album is. That section is tracks 7-10 where it starts off with my personal favorite ‘Pool.’ This track features what sounds like wind chimes, a steady and both powerful and submissive guitar and bass groove, topped off by vocals that can appear to sound like a run of the mill pop singer but still come of as Hayley Williams. It’s quite charming. The next two tracks, “Grudges” (A song Hayley stated is about Zac Farro) and “Caught in the Middle” follow this melodic pop formula with the first starting off with a glitzy electronic intro that’s then played throughout the song and the latter being built off a more rock style with a thudding bassline and ska-like guitar strumming pattern. Finally “Idle Worship,” a track that has been continuously growing on me with each listen, features great social critiquing lyrics, a raw vocal and sweeping keyboard performance from Miss Williams and a thundering drum beat from the man himself: Mr. Zac Farro. All of these songs are ultimately catchy in the same Paramore way they’re known for.
Thankfully, before that section comes a change of pace for the album. The song “Fake Happy” has that acoustic intro I mentioned earlier, before it dives into this new wave drenched sound this album stays in, one-dimensionally, for almost the entire album. The only song that completely strays away from this format is “26.” Now, I’m not one for a slow Paramore song. I generally don’t think a slowed down style fits Hayley’s voice, however I do think “26” is one of the exceptions. On this track Hayley sings: “Reality will break your heart, survival will not be the hardest part. It’s keeping all your hopes alive, all the rest of you has died. So let it break your heart and hold onto hope if you got it. Don’t let it go for nobody.” This song alone contains more emotion than the other too low-tempo songs “Forgiveness” and “Tell Me How,” without the shitty backing instrumental that sounds like a Cyndi Lauper ballad to accompany it. It intrigues the listener by offering a pleasant break away from the album’s default sound, and keeps you interested with good hook and lyrics which really capture what Paramore was trying to say with this album. The eleventh track “No Friend” is the oddball of this album and of Paramore’s discography as a whole. It features Aaron Weiss from the band MewithoutYou, where he speaks what he’s written with help from Paramore lyrics. According to Hayley, Weiss “made it about our story.” The music portion is rather constant and bland compared to the rest of the album but the track itself is still interesting to say the least. Definitely a must-listen but it’s not a something I find myself coming back to.
It was clear that this was not going to be a pop punk album. The constant in-your-face 80s vibe can get tiresome fast, and by fast I mean by the beginning of the second track. But if you don’t try to digest this album in one sitting, then it’s actually pretty enjoyable. The two singles are still as well received as they were when they first were released and tracks 7-10 keep me coming back to the album and have found their way onto my ever growing Paramore playlist. And while I did complain about the overall sound of this album, it’s something refreshing that fans should be excited about instead of whining over the lack of pop punk that the band seems to have entirely ditched in a sign of maturity. From here I would love to see Hayley and the gang mix it up a little bit. Maybe just stick your toe into the 80’s instead of drowning in it. Maybe incorporate some of the past back into your music like the mature pop punk of ‘Brand New Eyes’ and the pop excellence of ‘Paramore’ into your future recordings. There’s nowhere to go but up and if it wasn’t already, it’s about to get interesting.
Hard Times: 10/10
Rose-Colored Boy: 8/10
Told You So: 10/10
Fake Happy: 8.5/10
Caught in the Middle: 8.5/10
Idle Worship: 10/10
No Friend: 7/10
Tell Me How: 6/10