Let’s cut to the chase: don’t expect the eponymous fourth album from Paramore to sound much like the Paramore you’re used to. After the much-talked-about, apparently less-than-amicable departure of the Farro brothers in 2010, pretty much leaving the band name to Haley Williams to keep or discard, Williams has teamed up with new bandmates Jeremy Davis and Taylor York to reboot Paramore in a big way. And I do mean big: not only is the new album actually a 17-cut double vinyl record, but the record itself is full of energy and volume, guns blazing.
Just be prepared: it doesn’t sound like Paramore 1.0. That’s not to say it’s bad—in fact, it’s arguably the band’s most ambitious project to date. It’s just different. In an apparent (and what looks to be a successful) effort to be more mainstream, the band have yielded a much more polished, produced sound on this album, not completely forsaking their pop-punk, alt-rock roots, but definitely taking things more toward a modern pop/rock feel, to the point that even with angst-ridden lyrics it is increasingly difficult to classify the sound as emo. Listeners will catch this immediately in the opening track “Fast In My Car”, with its Muse-like electro sounds and a big drum pattern that is one step away from four-to-the-floor. Elsewhere, “Ain’t It Fun” sees a strong leaning toward funk/R&B, and the ballad “Hate To See Your Heart Break” ventures scarily toward country. Perhaps the most out-of-character sounds are the three ukelele-driven “Interludes”, which sound together sort of like an Ingrid Michaelson knockoff. (More on these in a moment.) In fact, the sounds on Paramore are so diverse and seemingly random at times that it sounds like the band is saying, “Hey, guys, we’re Paramore 2.0. Listen to all the cool stuff we can do!” The only thing that sort of keeps things from going too far, the glue that ties it all together, is Hayley Williams’ signature vocals, which in themselves are worth the price of the album, to be quite honest. No matter which side you fall on with regard to the background drama, this girl has got talent, and this album provides a great vehicle for her.
That being said, the fly in the ointment with this album (for me, anyway) has nothing to do with the sonic experimentation. With this reboot, Williams had a great opportunity to take the high road and distance herself from the Farro Bros. fallout. Opportunity blown. Apparently, the Farros aren’t the only ones chewing on sour grapes.
In several key moments throughout the album, the lyrics take a biting turn, and sound very much like a grinding axe—or to put it more plainly, sadly reminiscent of a Taylor Swift lyric aimed at her latest ex. Exhibit A: “Some of us have to grow up sometimes / If I have to, I’m gonna leave you behind” (on “Grow Up”). Then there are the aforementioned “Interludes.” The first one, entitled “Moving On”, includes the lyric, “Let ‘em spill their guts, ‘cuz one day they’re gonna slip on ‘em / I could be angry, but you’re not worth the fight / And besides, I’m movin’ on.” As for the title of the third installment, “I’m Not Angry Anymore”—I’m sorry, I don’t believe her. Those who are aware of the band’s internal disagreements will immediately draw the connection; apparently, Williams saved her own vitriol for the songs, essentially reinforcing the rather negative picture the Farros painted of her instead of proving them wrong. Personally, I could care less who said what to whom or who thinks who is too ambitious; I just wanted to hear some great friggin’ music, not listen to Williams having the last word. Others might not feel this way, but for me, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
If commercial success is the overarching goal of the Paramore reboot, I have little doubt they will accomplish said goal. In the week since its release, the album is jockeying for high position on the Billboard charts, and is on target to be their best selling record to date. Old-school Paramore fans might be disappointed by the shift toward pop/rock, but they were sort of heading that way, anyhow, and weighing the music on its own merit, it’s a very solid effort from a very good band.
It just could have been so much better without the attitude.