PARAMORE‘s evolution from emo-punk darlings to arena-filling pop sensations hasn’t been an easy one; lineup changes, controversy around the conduct of frontwoman Hayley Williams and a sense they’ve never properly broken through their own glass ceiling have followed them for years. Nevertheless, they must be doing something right, because they continue to play to thousands of people across the world, headline festivals and sell a bunch of records despite the fact that a song like Ain’t It Fun is a fair distance away from the angst of Misery Business. That they’re only five albums deep is even more impressive; plenty of bands have released more and never reached their heights. Their latest effort, After Laughter, came out on Friday and welcomes drummer Zac Farro back into the fold after a six year absence.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d entered a timewarp listening to this, because After Laughter could have come out thirty years ago and would have perfectly fitted in the musical landscape of the time. There is a lot on here that harks right back to the 1980’s, with the opening triple-salvo of Hard Times, Rose-Colored Boy (the best song on the album by a country mile) and I Told You So giving off strong BLONDIE and CYNDI LAUPER vibes. They’re incredibly sugar-sweet and the voicebox vocals on the opener could have done with being removed, but all three boast catchy choruses and can be expected to receive a lot of radio play once the summer rolls around. The retro feel continues with Forgiveness which bears a strange resemblance to TEARS FOR FEARS, specifically the song Everybody Wants to Rule the World whilst 26 is another feather in the cap of Williams, who still has a wonderfully diverse set of pipes, able to belt and croon with the best of them on a brooding, acoustic number. Furthermore, the reggae/funk vibes that accompany Caught in the Middle are an earworm waiting to happen, and certainly do enough to put a spring in your step should you be listening as you walk down the street.
What lets this album down is its delivery: as colourful and pleasant as it is, it’s far too safe and cheery. The PARAMORE of old, whilst never being the angriest of bands, at least had enough grit behind them to strike a chord within thanks to their excellent songwriting and power in their riffs and progressions. After Laughter is so inoffensive that, for all its feel-good factor, it’s actually a little upsetting to listen to knowing what they used to be like. Songs like Fake Happy and Pool still have a bit of bite in their lyrics but are blunted by saccharine guitars and Grudges could have been used on a montage of TV smash Skins. Most baffling of all is No Friend, however, which contains the quite bizarre lyric “I let go of the coat/but the coat won’t let go of me” and doesn’t follow the rest of the album whatsoever in terms of style, resulting in a jarring and nonsensical number that could have done with being left off the final cut.
There’s nothing wrong with evolving as a band, and PARAMORE in 2017 have clearly grown out of the skinny jeans and fringes of their youth. What hurts is that they’re pandering to the masses so much that they’re willing to lose what made them such a special band in the first place, and for all After Laughter‘s bounce and innocence, that’s an underlying sadness it will never be able to shake.
After Laughter is out now via Fueled By Ramen.
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