*NOTE: My original review of this album was much more negative, but my opinion on the album has changed considerably since release, hence the edited review. I don’t do number ratings, but the original text would probably have been about a 5/10, while the new text is probably a 7 or 8.*
Paramore is a group that seems defined almost as much by inter-band tensions at they are by their musical output. For those who hadn’t followed the drama surrounding the trio, the short version of the story is thus. Founding members Zac and Josh Farro left the band in 2010 due to reasons both moral and musical, putting the future of the band in question. Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York would choose to continue the group as a trio, putting out a few website-exclusive singles and intermittently touring, before finally releasing their self-titled fourth album early in April of this year.
Everything from the title of the album to its ambitious length and scope (the album is longer than the band’s last album, 2009’s brand new eyes, by over 20 minutes) suggests that this album to be Paramore’s defining statement as a band thus far. It is meant to be both a clean slate and a declaration of intent. “We’re still here, and we’ve moved and to bigger and better things,” is what the album seems to suggest, and yet the band seems unsure as to what direction they truly want to go in musically. Paramore is marred by the fact that it seems less like an album and more like the band desperately trying to figure out its musical identity. The material is mostly top notch, but the album never seems to coalesce into a unified whole, instead simply sounding like a collection of songs.
For many songs on this album, Paramore has chosen to eschew their pop-punk trimmings in favor of a lighter, more pop-rock sort of sound. This exemplified by opener “Fast in My Car,” which despite the title is a rather leisurely affair. Immediately a change in sound from past albums is noticeable – the guitar is much less aggressive, leaving Williams’ vocals to carry more of the melody, and synthesizers (which previously had only been hinted at in some songs) are now a prominent part of the music. The rhythm section, though tight as ever, has less to do since the music simply isn’t as fast. It’s not as though Paramore used to approach thrash metal or anything in terms of speed, but much of the band’s older sound was defined by a youthful sense of energy. As such, this mellower, more vocal-heavy approach on display for much of the album can come off as rather jarring when compared to the band’s past material.
Of course, this new direction isn’t entirely a bad thing, either. Paramore can do pop well, as shown on 2007’s Riot!, and the pop songs on display here are both incredibly listenable and have enough variety to ensure that that album doesn’t sound repetitive. “Grow Up,” for instance, is fairly straightforward for the most part, but the last iteration of the chorus gives way to an extended synthesizer outro that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Metric album. “Ain’t it Fun,” with its bouncy beat, prominent synth melody, and fucking Gospel choir, lies somewhere between “unbearably cheesy” and “humming the melody to yourself while you cook breakfast.” “Hate to See Your Heart Break” is a surprisingly gentle ballad – the mellow instrumentation, replete with a glockenspiel and orchestral flourishes, sound like the last thing a band like Paramore would ever make, but the song itself is tender and honest. Even the songs that are basically pure pop, such as “(One of Those) Crazy Girls)” or “Still into You,” are done well enough that they never drag, and are catchy enough that they’ll get stuck in your head at least once.
There are, of course, more “traditional” Paramore songs, for lack of a better phrase. These songs, though occasionally heavy on the synthesizer, generally wouldn’t sound out of place on past Paramore albums. “Now” is a blend of aggressive riffing, a surprisingly complex rhythm section, and an unmistakable Williams vocal delivery that is both angry and melodic. “Part II,” a spiritual successor to “Let the Flames Begin” off of Riot! is notable for its somber tone and immense musical climax; though the band is working on all cylinders here, it’s session drummer Ilan Rubin (currently serving as the drummer for Nine Inch Nails) who truly shines on this track. “Daydreaming” and “Be Alone,” though different in terms of tone and tempo, both combine immediate guitar leads, emotive vocals, and some very big choruses to create some of the best songs on the album. All of these songs are exemplary of the Paramore sound of old, and show that the band can still write some damn good pop-punk when they’re not busy being experimental.
Speaking of which, there are certain tracks on this album that don’t easily fit into either of the two previously mentioned categories. The most immediate examples are the three Interludes, which consist of nothing but Hayley and a ukulele. These are catchy, simple little tunes, but they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose – given that the overall track sequencing seems rather slapdash, they seem less like breathers in a narrative and more like filler in an album that already is running a bit too long. “Anklebiters” is a quick, 2-minutes-and-change burst of adrenaline that’s basically the closest the band has ever come to sounding punk. And album closer “Future” comes completely out of nowhere and hits like a semi truck. Starting off as a somber acoustic number and ending up as a pummeling, post-rock (!) drone, the nearly 8 minute song is not only a jarring tonal shift for the album but sounds like a completely different band, period.
There is an intentional lyrical disparity that serves as recurring motif throughout the album, reinforcing the band’s creed that they’re trying to move beyond the “high school drama” of yesterday- hence why ruminations on the past give way to straightforward love songs, and vice-versa. It’s difficult to tell whether Paramore wanted this album to be intentionally disparate to reflect the emotions that went into creating it, of if they were just in desperate need of an editor. The track sequencing, as previously mentioned, is slapdash – if the band had decided to group the songs on the album by sound or even just by tone, it would go a long way towards making the album feel more whole, and would give the interludes more of a purpose. As it is, Paramore is a good or even great collection of songs, but it’s not a great album.
However, there is more than enough quality material on Paramore to make it a solid recommendation for fans. The album is overly-ambitious and is never truly sure of what it wants to be, but in a way, isn’t that just a good metaphor for growing up?