I think by now, everyone on Earth is familiar with the piece of musical crack that is Paramore's single "Ain't it Fun." The pop rock single certainly threw me off - despite the inclusion of one of those absurd choir bridges at the end, "Ain't it Fun" is a real breath of fresh air in rock music in its increasingly whiny, hipster-ish, and outright catatonic state. My curiosity was piqued about the band, and I set out to find out more about them and their new album.
As it turns out, Paramore isn't some out-of-nowhere success coming along in the last year. While their current self-titled album is looking like a definite mainstream breakthrough, Paramore had a very real career long before the release of Paramore. This new self-titled album, in fact, is the band's fourth album, and while most seem quite ecstatic about it, the band's loyalists actually seem to be pretty pissed off with them. In their time in the music business, Paramore has undergone musical evolution which included a couple of personnel shifts. For this self-titled album, the band actually had to endure the departures of their longtime creative stalwarts Josh and Zac Farro. The common story is they got put off by the media's constant emphasis on lead singer Hayley Williams. That should set off a nostalgic twinge for anyone who came of age in the 90's. There's no way we can avoid recognizing Paramore for what they really are: They're No Doubt with a better vocalist and no ska section. Also, their Facebook page is about to hit 30 million Likes.
Although the band has a poppy sound, make no mistake; they're not some studio-manufactured product created by a sleazy manager to cash in. They do all their instrumentals and songwriting themselves. Normally the departure of the band's creative geniuses can slow them down, but Paramore seems to be surviving just fine without the brothers Farro. Paramore the album contains several songs which seem to have sprung up from the inner strife, be that from the usual stuff or Williams's onetime relationship with Josh Farro. (Another No Doubt parallel.) The overall sound of Paramore isn't as tight as it was during the Farro years - and I tracked down two of the band's three previous albums in order to be a better reviewer, so I can say that - but other than that, there's not a great lot of trash to be said about them. They HAVE matured. While Farro and Farro might have been responsible for Paramore's sound on All We know is Falling, Riot!, and Brand New Eyes, those albums also tend to lean into kiddie punk territory. Think Avril Lavigne, but a hair harder. So, considering just how much real credibility Avril "Sid Vicious was One of My Biggest Influences but I've Never Heard of the Sex Pistols" Lavigne has now, you can see why a jump in style was necessary.
Maturity is everywhere on Paramore. This 17-song, hourlong behemoth includes songs like "Grow Up" and "Interlude: Moving On." (There are three "interludes" on Paramore. All three are full-fledged songs, so why the band saw it fit to refer to them as interludes is completely beyond me.) Three guesses as to their subject matter. "Fast in My Car," the opening song, is about how the three remaining members of the band - Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York - managed to tough out the storm.
Okay, we're getting the message. But in between the lines, we're listening to a band that isn't a kid, but not quite mature either. With the poppy punk clearly in the past now, Paramore is free to move in any direction they want, but they haven't quite decided on a particular direction to go in. So on Paramore, they're allowing themselves experimentation in a bunch of different directions, but never committing to one. The first few songs are filled with gimmicks - the stuttering chorus in "Now," the stuttering CHORDS in "Grow Up" - which are fun and work well for a band which is basically recovering from an old ethos, but they're gone before long and never heard again. Hayley Williams is using studio depth for her vocals often. They don't hurt anything, but she just doesn't need them. There are choir singers in a couple of backgrounds, including lead single "Ain't it Fun."
The songs after "Ain't it Fun" start to flow rather than stutter, and it's really here that the first signs of Paramore's musical maturity start to emerge. It's the pop-rockiest part of the album. The songs here are still catchy and fun, except for "Last Hope," whose acoustic strums against a very generic background don't do it for me. Williams is also holding back through a lot of the song. However, "Last Hope" is followed up by one of Paramore's singles, "Still Into You," which for my money is the best single on the album. It's another stutter punk song, and although the style is pure pop, the stuttering doesn't stand out quite enough to damage the rest of the song.
"Anklebiters" is introduced by one of my longtime musical banes: The distorted guitar, and it brings in the choir. The song doesn't mix well. It's easily the most punk song on Paramore, but the band tries to mix it with a jangling guitar, and the song's sheen doesn't go with the speed of a proper punk song.
Hayley Williams mainly uses the interludes to gives us a real feel for what her pipes are capable of. They're all instrumentally minimal, and they don't use a lot of studio tricks to enhance Williams's singing. If anyone believed Hayley Williams was in any way in inferior version of No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, they need to hear Williams sing one of these pretty interludes and track down an instrumental minimalist piece with Stefani. Stefani is a very effective singer - that much can't be argued. But her vocals at best tend to be very-good-not-great. I've always thought Gwen Stefani was held back by a rough sandpaper voice which usually sounds like it's slamming against her nasal ceiling. Although it made Stefani sound extremely hard on No Doubt's records - and we forget that, despite the upbeat sound, No Doubt's iconic "Just a Girl" was a very ANGRY song - it was her band which was able to give Stefani her backdrop. Although I don't like to downplay the great work done by Davis and York on Paramore, Williams's soaring voice is easily the element which will jump out to most listeners.
If you hear one of Paramore's earlier albums, one thing that always seems to stick out is how out-of-place the slower, more balled-like songs appear. It's a weird irony that Paramore, while not being quite as tight or musically coherent as Paramore's other three records, does have a smoother flow because the band doesn't commit to a particular sound. When the record's wind down time begins with the third interlude, the hiccup isn't so noticeable. The slower songs are faster than before. Unfortunately, they're also a little bit weaker. There's none of the catchiness of, say, "Brick by Boring Brick."
Yes, there are some strong, catchy songs on Paramore. There are also some weak ones. I'm hoping to see if Paramore picks a way to go musically. Until then, there's almost certainly something on this self-titled record to catch your ear at least a few times, but you might want to preview it before committing to the record or download.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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