A change in the lineup, a change in the sound
Paramore withstood line-up changes and rebranded in their 2013 self-titled record, producing their biggest hit to date. After Laughter is an evolution to this sound, and it comes with more surprises.
After Laughter leaves behind the pop-rock sound that Paramore has had for years, changing it out for heavy 80’s synth-rock influence. Jeremy Davis is no longer playing bass with the band, but with the style change, it’s hard to say how much difference this made. However, the return of founding member Zac Farro brought back a clear chemistry that the band was lacking in the percussion department. Taylor York has steadily taken on more responsibility with the band, going from just four co-writing credits on Brand New Eyes to co-producer and writer for the last two albums. York is now a major driving force behind the band’s sound, sharing producing credits with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who recently produced Jimmy Eat World’s latest album. The two manage to capture the essence of the band while propelling them forward with a new sound.
We open with one of their catchiest songs yet: “Hard Times”. The opener is the heir apparent to their smash hit “Ain’t It Fun”. Both tracks are addictive and use their upbeat tone to mask a bleaker message. Where “Ain’t It Fun” was a nod to their older style, “Hard Times” is a complete departure. Hayley Williams’ vocals here are more dynamic and fun and the music takes heavy influence from 80s pop. The overlapping themes on the record are presented perfectly here; you don’t know how you survive hard times, but you have to power through anyway. This entire record touches on feeling fed up with that fact. Exhaustion with survival is a major recurring theme here.
“Told You So” is driven by keys and bass and plays like a Paramore remix more than anything. Melodically, it fits so tight with any of their records that it’s familiar-sounding upon first listen, like déjà vu. It’s catchy enough to avoid being skipped, but after a few listens of the record, this wasn’t one that I found myself remembering, let alone coming back to. “Caught in the Middle” is another track that I felt was lackluster. It was catchy enough to nod along to but it never stuck. Two mediocre tracks is a major improvement over their last effort though, which I felt was largely forgettable.
“Fake Happy,” is textbook Paramore songwriting. The message can be related to, but it is at times so blunt it can come out dull. Still, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the record. Williams keeps her voice distorted at the beginning of the song before synthesizers greet us and the full band breaks out. The notion of putting on a face is something that most people can relate to. Eventually, it becomes too much to do, and you hit a crossroads where you have to decide how much it’s really worth to keep the façade up. This song would be on a playlist for that crossroad and has the potential to be one of their next big singles.
They get a little folksy and introspective on “26”. It’s a rare ballad for the group, sticking to a single guitar, airy percussion, and a beautiful string arrangement. Williams recently commented on her change of hair, citing a need to remove herself from that part of her life in order to stable her emotions. The track, in a similar fashion, beckons the listener to hold on to hope no matter what. Williams does a good job at projecting an exhausted sound in her voice without going over the top with it. “Idle Worship” on the other hand, is Williams at her best. She yelps with energy and drives a hell of a melody in the chorus, with a choir-like backing arrangement leading into it. The first eight seconds of the track are reminiscent of some funky electro-swing too. It’s a really fun song and second only to “Hard Times” in terms of catchiness.
The album hits its peak though with “No Friend”. Mewithoutyou’s Aaron Weiss contributes vocals to the track, bringing his signature style and draw to an unfamiliar sound and showing that despite elevating to pop star status, the band hasn’t forgotten their roots. This song is really unlike anything the band has ever attempted before. It reminds me of their self-titled’s closer, Future. But where Future grew from subdued into something awe-inspiring, we instead have Weiss’s restrained and muffled voice bleeding through a sprawling arrangement. It is one of their most experimental songs and one of their best as well. Paramore is a great pop band and their change in style has clearly been a lucrative one for them. I just can’t help but hope we see a release similar to “No Friend” and “Future” because they have an uncanny knack for indie rock.