Paramore have come a long way from their All We Know Is Falling origins of higher-pitched vocals and angsty song topics. There’s always emotion remaining, but throughout Paramore’s discography you can hear it develop a more optimistic, foot-tapping edge. When the band was reduced to only three members, the music became quieter and genuinely sad – take ‘Last Hope’, for example, which pulls on your heartstrings as you’re sitting in your bedroom or on a bus on a cold winter evening. Their first single ‘Now’ from that album was enough to let fans know that the band was changing, and rather unapologetically too.
I saw Paramore at Leeds Festival in 2014. I thoroughly enjoyed both the journeys down memory lane with iconic earlier songs, as well as the crowd’s embrace of the new music, newly cut and bubbling with promise.
I’m sitting here filled with excitement to properly review this new album, which arrived to streaming platforms on 12th May. Paramore’s two singles from After Laughter, ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Told You So’, admittedly hark back to earlier pop-like songs such as ‘Into You’ from their previous self-titled project. This didn’t shun me from eagerly playing the complete work on my boyfriend’s speakers once it was released. By him accidentally pressing shuffle and us hearing the first few seconds of ‘Idle Worship’, I was given a hint of the fresh new music that we would indulge in.
The opener to the album is probably my least favourite of the lot. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. When I hear the intro, that sounds too much like a default iPhone ringtone crossed with a steelpan, it doesn’t get me very pumped for the rest. It doesn’t instantly make me think ‘this is a solid Paramore track’ – it could be the start of any song on the charts right now. I’m only warmed to it when the drums and guitar come in, followed by Hayley’s beautifully bold voice. I especially like the 40 seconds or so, where you can hear some nice key changes in Hayley’s backing vocals, but I more often than not find her dramatic yelling of ‘I gotta get to rock bottom’ ultimately cringey.
It becomes obvious that the song concept is the only thing that really carries it. ‘Hard Times’ explores the reality of really just going through shit, and then getting through it with the knowledge that it may happen again but you’ll always survive. It takes a negative truth and shapes it into something fun, with a freeing acceptance of the spectrum of experiences you will have in your life. I love that Paramore touches on this, but my experience of the song is overshadowed by a slightly irritating riff and an aching awareness of what the song could have potentially been. Ah well, onto the next…
I absolutely LOVE this track. It has such an 80s vibe to it, which is always a sure winner for me. Not only that, though, the lyrics are amazing and unlike most songs I’ve heard. It bursts onto the scene after ‘Hard Times’ almost smugly as if it knows I’m going to like this one better than the last. The distant shouting in the intro makes me feel like I’m dancing in a crowd of people and they’re all proudly chanting about their emotional vulnerability: ‘just hang with me and my weather’. The song is awesome, and carries the same twist of upbeat-but-melancholy to the album opener. I definitely see it as the better version of ‘Hard Times’, and one I could replay a lot more, purely for its more interesting beats and refreshing variation in Hayley’s vocals – simply the way she sings ‘rose-coloured boy’ is a miniature journey.
Although the song doesn’t romanticise being sad, it still embraces the frequency of sadness that a lot of people experience and that many others don’t seem to get. There has been many a time when people, especially guys, have invalidated my emotions, or haven’t understood why something has affected me so much. ‘I ain’t gon’ smile if I don’t want to / Hey man, we all can’t be like you / I wish we were all rose-coloured too’ is something I wish I could have said to those people who can’t seem to think or feel outside their own bubble.
Told You So
This is the song out of Paramore’s two radio-friendly releases that I genuinely enjoy the most. Although the repetitive, bouncing beat and quick guitar means it’s not the first song I jump to if I decided to listen in preference order, Hayley’s confident voice yet again saves the record. The opener ‘For all I know / The best is over and the worst is yet to come’ shares the same gritty pessimism as the previous two tracks on the album, but it’s difficult to shake your head or be put down by it. It’s the sort of relatable that isn’t dipped in a fake quirkiness; it’s matter-of-fact and doesn’t pressure you to join the bandwagon. For me, all this song really adds to the album is a continuation and slightly different twist on the theme of unapologetic negativity, and the idea that people shouldn’t shove their bad feelings out of sight like a broom to a rat. I can still bop to it, and it’s better than ‘Hard Times’, but I’m kinda feeling like I need to be told something else now.
The intro to the fourth track reminds me of Blink-182, the kind of soft rock sadness that you could listen to in any mood and you’d eventually find yourself something to mope about. As before, Hayley’s voice is gentle but firm, and the slow rise in pitch in ‘And you, you want forgiveness’ has me thinking of every single person in my past that I could apply this to just so the emotion I hear will mean something. It has the classic slow pace of songs of heartbreak (such as the band’s very own ‘Hate To See Your Heartbreak’), and is the kind of track that would either really help me to concentrate on an essay, or would really distract me from it with the kind of memories it attempts to bring to the foreground. The only downside to all of this is that it’s now been taken off Apple Music so it skips the song when the album plays, and I have to pause and search it on Youtube. What a hassle.
This is an amazing track. The song goes through stages of sounds that keeps you nodding your head and waiting for the next transition, but it still retains a strong chorus with multiple layers of Hayley’s vocals. Ironically, the song makes me happy because the lyrics are so blindingly real and ‘Oh, please / I bet everybody here is fake happy too’ is such a beautiful affirmation. It’s quite clear at this point that Paramore is saying no to any heavy guitar or violent lyrics in their songs. Their bitterness and resentment has matured into something that says, ‘I’m just going to be myself and say how I feel, but I’m too tired to look for a fight anymore’. Just look at the difference between these songs and ‘Ignorance’ or ‘Misery Business’. The only slight downside is possibly ‘my mascara tears’ reminding me of the overly metaphorical lyrics of Melanie Martinez songs, and with it being a cliché image anyway I like to forget that bit is in the song. It’s only a minor detail though – the song is still 10/10, would recommend.
Pair this one with ‘Forgiveness’ and you can guarantee yourself no dry eyes for a solid 5 minutes. Or I can myself, at least. Hayley’s range is stunning – the point where it really hits my heart is her question ‘When you gonna hear me out?’; I just wanna curl up in a ball right now, and I would if I could still easily type in that position. The calming down into acoustic is definitely what any album needs, and this song brings you all the more deeper into the emotional pit you may have already been wallowing in. Thanks, Paramore!
Despite the exciting jerk back to the upbeat, this song really doesn’t do much for me. I know it’s finally something that shows a different emotion to ‘everything is terrible’, describing the feeling of falling in love, I can’t help but find that it verges on cliché, especially the ‘drowning’ metaphor – it’s uplifting yet boring, and even if you’re experiencing the same thing as Hayley sings about in ‘Pool’, I imagine it would still be hard to be like “Yeah, I’m gonna play this song every day for the rest of my life!” It would sort of just make you think ‘Aww, yeah’ and move on. I’m not saying I wouldn’t jump up and sing along if I ever saw Paramore perform this song, but after the melancholy of the previous songs a full listen of the album doesn’t lead to much excitement at this point.
#BackToThe80s. It’s the sister of ‘Rose-Colored Boy’, the more forgiving one: same synths, but a different tone. At the beginning it’s even quite reminiscent of Tame Impala’s sound. This song shows the same kind of emotional development you see towards the end of Lemonade (yeah, alright, any excuse to get it in there…), with the idea that you’ll only be free from other people when you let go of what happened between you. It’s obvious that the ‘grudges’ mentioned in the songs are personal to the band and possibly more to Hayley in terms of members who’ve left, which makes me admire this transition a lot more. Again, it doesn’t jump out at me when I listen to it. This is possibly because I feel like I’ve heard my favourites and any more just won’t do it for me. Still, it’s one I’ll give more chances to.
Caught In The Middle
The jerky guitar at this song’s beginning well and truly swings the mood back towards wit and confidence. An example of this resort to humour is the repetition of ‘I don’t need no help / I can sabotage me by myself’ in the last minute of the song, above an ironically cheerful beat. It reminds me of something you’d see loads of people retweeting from a ‘sad’ account, and while that verges on the bandwagon-type situation it’s also something that you don’t really see in music, and Paramore appears to pull it off well. The song title and chorus is a little predictable, ‘caught in the middle’ being something I’ve heard loads of times in songs, but the difference is found in the new concept.
This is another song raw with honesty from the band, and appears to be a message from them to their very own diehard fans. It might also be towards diehard fans of anything, telling them to, you know, chill out a little bit. Hayley talks of her frustration with falling from the ‘pedestal that you keep putting me on’, not wanting to be seen as some sort of god. Okay, I’m sorry, but this does remind me of the Beyoncé lyric ‘God is God and I am not’, and considering how big she displayed those words on the screen on her tour, I couldn’t forget them. I appreciate this track because it’s taking yet another turn in a different direction with the content. The lyrics might be about a personal relationship with high expectations, but to me it’s a comment on fame and how, ultimately, it’s just made worse all the emotions that are described throughout After Laughter. This song definitely takes me back to Paramore’s earlier stuff, like ‘Playing God’.
I was distracted by something when it switched to this song, and when my mind came back to the album I was like ‘Wait, it’s been doing this same intro for… how long? A whole minute?’ Then, I pretty much accepted it would carry on for the whole thing. It reminds me of something played on top of a montage of riot videos; it sounds angry, as if the soft and forgiving tracks we’ve just heard have lost significance. As an English Literature student I should probably be able to suss out what the mumbled lyrics in the background mean, but I’m struggling; even a google doesn’t produce many answers. This is just a transition track in my mind, signalling the near end of the album, so until I know what Paramore is talking about with this one I won’t worry too much about it.
Tell Me How
Ugh, low-pitched piano gets me every time. It’s the classic simplicity of ‘Tell Me How’ that really draws attention to its message. It’s one of the songs on the album that I resonate with most, but it’s also one that feels the least like Paramore just by the piano and the consistent beats. However, the lyrics definitely pull through with the help of Hayley’s voice; ‘You keep me up with your silence / Take me down with your quiet’ is frustratingly relatable, describing someone who refuses to distinguish their pride. With the added echo on her vocals, it’s like Hayley is on her knees shouting these lyrics at an empty room. This is one of my favourite tracks on After Laughter, and one I’ll listen to frequently when I want to subject myself to emotional suffering.
This is Paramore’s most understated album to date, but they still re-emerge from their self-made shell when they see fit. I think, along with the more unapologetically radio-friendly sound, they’re also simplifying their lyrics – maybe it’s just because I was younger and couldn’t be bothered reading into the lyrics, but I can definitely follow topics explored with a lot more ease now. With acknowledgement of some flaws, I can enjoy every song on this album. It feels like one of those projects that isn’t begging for amazing reviews, but is simply an honest proclamation of feeling, and the very human problem of battling with the past.
Overall score: 8/10
After Laughter is out now on iTunes and all popular streaming platforms