Paramore is powerful. Whether they’re striving for pop punk, power pop or funk-infused pop rock, the three-piece always comes back with a punch. With just 12 tracks, their latest album After Laughter manages to land hit after hit, solidifying the band’s progression toward a reinvented sound.
After Laughter is a neon-colored collage that pieces together the personal and public spheres of Paramore. After parting with long-time bassist Jeremy Davis, the band reunited with former drummer and founding member Zac Farro. Lyrically and sonically, the album comes to terms with the band’s mish-mash of severed and reclaimed ties, but this is far from the album’s sole focus.
Actually, the album’s opener, “Hard Times,” best tells the tone: Life’s not easy, and you can’t pretend it is. Yet while singer (and occasional keyboardist) Hayley Williams begs for “a hole in the ground,” playful marimbas and disco-like beats usher along a deceivingly playful track.It’s one of the album’s most accessible (and as a result, generic) tracks on the album, but it marks Paramore’s confidence in their metamorphosis.
After Laughter boasts a distinct blend of their classic, kicking-and-screaming emo sensibility with an overarching influence of ‘80s and modern synth pop. The band experiments with vocal tricks, instruments beyond the usual “alt rock” standard, and a more laidback approach. “Told You So,” the album’s second single, bleeds a bit of Talking Heads, while “Forgiveness” has the potential to be mistaken for a Tears for Fears track.
Meanwhile, “Rose Colored Boy” begs a blindly hopeful boy to empathize during said hard times. Hayley just wants to cry in the car – let her. She’s tired of baseless optimism, and she’s tired of putting on fake smiles, like she sings on “Fake Happy.” Yet “Pool” exhibits a weird brand of realistic optimism that keeps her coming back to a sometimes painful relationship. These three tracks, ironically enough, are some of the grooviest and most upbeat on the album, somewhat mimicking Williams’s own false positivity.
And it wouldn’t be a Paramore album without at least one overly emo slow track, and After Laughter gifts listeners with two. “26,” with its use of swelling strings and talk of holding onto hope, is reminiscent of “The Rainbow Connection.” The album’s closer, “Tell Me How,” is more concrete, exploring post-relationship relations over a solid pop piano beat.
But it’s “Idle Worship” that serves as a prime example of Paramore’s transition. The track addresses fans who put Williams on a superhuman pedestal. Williams puts her voice to work, crackling with years of being held to higher standards, and stand-in Justin Meldal-Johnson’s boot-stomping bass lines are perfect for tearing down over a decade of expectations. The build-up and chorus are cathartic, playing with sarcastic “la la la”s and exploding into a full-band affair.
The following track, “No Friend,” serves as the outro to “Idle Worship” and features mewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss. Blaring over Weiss’s muffled spoken word is York’s spiraling guitar riff, putting instrumentals at the forefront.
After Laughter doesn’t wallow in melancholy, but it doesn’t reach futilely for happiness. Paramore braves the lows and embraces the highs, but it glorifies neither, taking a realistic stand. It’s this same honesty that attracted angsty teens to the band’s first three full-lengths, and Paramore’s truth to itself is what makes growth their most reliable constant.
By Carina Vo