Album Review – ‘After Laughter’, Paramore

Their most poppy venture yet deserves to take these Tennessee boppers to new heights

★★★★★

Much has been made of rock band Paramore’s line-up changes throughout their 13-year career. A brief recap: they began as a five-piece, before the departure of original bassist Jeremy Davis, which provided much of the inspiration for 2005 debut ‘All We Know Is Falling’. Davis was replaced briefly, by Josh Hembree, before rejoining at the remainder of the band’s request just five months after his original departure. Within months, Hunter Lamb replaced Jason Bynum, only for Lamb himself to have departed by the end of that album cycle. The group’s sophomore record saw the introduction of lead guitarist Taylor York as a replacement for Lamb, although not before Jeremy Davis had left and returned once again. Three years then passed as a period of relative stability, during which the band released ‘brand new eyes’ as a follow-up to that breakthrough triumph ‘Riot!’, before the most famous and acrimonious drama of all: the departure of lead songwriter Josh Farro, announced firstly via a blog post that the remainder of the group had denied they’d written, then ‘officially’ via Josh’s own blog post mere days later. Just for some added spice, the first of these two blog posts claimed only Josh had left at that junction, only for Josh’s own post to make clear that his brother Zac had also departed alongside him. The band – by this point, if you’ve lost track, a three-piece – concluded the tour for ‘brand new eyes’ and then released and toured their self-titled fourth album, including a co-headline spot at the famed Reading and Leeds Festivals, and everything appeared to be plain sailing for a while, only for disaster to strike once more. Jeremy Davis left the group for a third time – but this time, seemingly, permanently, later taking remaining members York and singer Hayley Williams to court over royalty disagreements. Thus, the band’s fifth album which is the focus of our attention today was recorded with the band only having two official members, although even at this point original drummer Zac Farro had begun to casually attended some of their recording sessions. In December 2016, Zac became officially reinstated as a member of the band, and so we have Paramore – once again, a three-piece – setting out on this new adventure. The constant line-up drama – for which the group have probably now become as well known as their music – can clearly be traced lyrically through this fifth album, but in truth it is a near-flawless pop record purely on its own terms, and deserves to be considered free of its context.

We begin with lead single ‘Hard Times’, dropped without warning in mid-March. Opening with gorgeous marimbas, before exploding into a future festival anthem with jangly guitar lines reminiscent of Foals and even full-throated 80s synth lines, ‘Hard Times’ combines the lyrical darkness of the band’s early material with radio-friendly funk to devastating effect, and this technique illuminates through the album’s first three tracks. ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ is a glorious pop statement of a ginormity which manages the impossible task of holding a candle to previous mega-hits ‘Ain’t It Fun’ and ‘Still Into You’, whilst simultaneously clearly nodding lyrically to the support and optimism that York provided to Williams during the period when the band were reduced to just two members, and Williams considered disbanding the group once and for all. The Foals guitars return on instant-grat promo single ‘Told You So’, an earworm which again has the potential to dominate pop radio worldwide, although still with lyrical bleakness working as an intriguing contrast to the thrillingly funky backing.

Things drop off a little for forgettable half-ballad ‘Forgiveness’, but even this waste of four minutes that usually seem a mis-step is perhaps – on reflection – needed, because the pace and intensity picks right back up again with fifth track ‘Fake Happy’, bringing easily the most life-affirming chorus of the record, albeit in a way which some might deem cringeworthy. “I’m gonna draw my lipstick wider than my mouth”, Williams mutters, making a transparent play for the hearts of emotionally-introverted fans everywhere. ’26’ is for the most part a gorgeous guitar ballad, although also expands in its chorus line into a touching urge from Williams to “hold onto hope if you’ve got it” – resonating as timely good advice for those dismayed by events in the world of late. ‘Pool’ nods to a classic Wolf Alice-esque production, before Williams addresses the media’s unhealthy focus on the constant coming of going of her band members – “stop asking why, why we had to waste so much time”. The record’s final climax finds ‘Caught In The Middle’ exploding, at its chorus-point, into a summer road trip jam, before it goes on to climax with a chant around the themes of self-sabotage surely destined to be blissfully belted out around arenas everywhere very soon. And this sums up the record, nicely: it doesn’t shy away from the emotional darkness the band members have suffered throughout their journey together, but at the same time it does effortlessly capitalise on the progress made by those mega-hits on the previous album, with huge choruses and anthems for this generation sorely lacking one pop-rock outfit to define it.

Best songs: Rose-Colored Boy, Fake Happy

Worth a listen: Hard Times, Told You So, Grudges, Caught In The Middle

Hopefully won’t be in the tour setlist: Forgiveness, No Friend

 

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