“...the world doesn't need another band! Nuh-uh-uh-oh! ...I can’t believe we almost hung it up! Wuh-wuh-woah! We're just getting started!”
This was the message Paramore left zingin’ in our ears last time around. Their glorious, near-perfect, career-catapulting third album brand new eyes defied lazy preconceptions - and then some - that they were 'just another mallrat-friendly punk-pop-loving lamestream emo-rock band'. And then, after taking over the radio-waves, hooking up with the super-massive Twilight movie franchise, and a hugely successful tour of the world's arenas^ came news that two members were leaving the band. For a minute, it seemed like that was it. Another one bites the dust...
However, with over seven million record sales, 25 million Facebook fans, and having just played significant shows - including a headline set sandwiched between Weezer and Blink-182 at Reading Festival - the idea of going out at their peak was seemingly never even mooted by the remaining trio.
Awash in a sea of conjecture, Hayley (Fifth Element hair, sass and vox), Jeremy (humble bass dude, who does insanely awesome flips on stage) and Taylor (likely heralded a guitar god in non-indie-saddo circles... it’s his guitar lines that trace the top-line melody that make their songs so incredible) regrouped and the determined threesome continued being Paramore... really, what a waste that would of been, as they have re-emerged from the debris (for a second time, if reading between the lyrical lines the band almost imploded making BNE) with a renewed sense of self, and this impressive rock-pop pigeon-hole defying, genre-mongrel of a fourth album.
Proudly self-titled, Paramore is braver and more playful than any record they’ve released to date. The band mentioned some of the tracks being 'a little bit tongue in cheek', but the She & Him-ish, Elvis Costello-y ukulele interlude tracks take their music to a whole different place. Of course, for the bulk of the record there is still the same semi-charmed coming-of-age confusion at life's crossroads; figuring out what it means to be a human being who loves, loses, reflects and grows. It’s this doubt and awe, riding along on infectious melodies, that makes their music so universally compelling.
Paramore is an assured and confident record. For every contemplative minute of the LP, there's three more minutes spiralling in the eye of a rock storm. When they are not lost in the moment, the shadowy spectre of the future (something filled with both promise and fear) pops its head into view, but it is always tempered by the nostalgic comfort of the past. Of course, I could explain more thoroughly what I mean by this but I'm not sure I've even worked out exactly how they manage to go back to the future (80s stadium synths, 90s punk-pop but with back-in-the-day talk vs we'll get there dreaming), like that... However, these melancholy but uplifting, past-present-future, love-hope-death-liveyourdreams themes have always loomed large in Paramore’s music, and if they achieved nothing else with this record, bringing these concepts into focus (perhaps not with lazer-like hi-def clarity) would/should/could take up the bulk of every review, but there is plenty more to write about...^^
Something’s changed, for sure, but it’s not so easy to pin whatever it is down. To call it 'optimism' would miss the point, slightly. Simply, there’s a newfound air of possibility to this Paramore album... super-fans, please don’t fret, there hasn’t been any huge seismic shift, but then why would they change? Their formula for writing hive-rock^^^ anthems with undeniably catchy choruses wasn’t in need of fixing. Of course, this isn't their Tusk career-crashing record: Paramore were never likely to nose-dive into a sea of self-indulgence (Fueled by Ramen, the Motown of 'Emo' definitely wouldn’t have let that happen anyway!), at least not when they so effortlessly construct melodies that are of a Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac standard (there are perhaps some parallels and conclusions you could insert here which will only really make sense when we look back in 25 years).
Despite their huge success, calling them songwriting geniuses might sound irksome to some of you or simply ridiculously overblown journo-hyperbole to others, but... actually, this review really isn’t the place for my incessant pub-rant that has sliced several pairs of 2-kool-4-skool ears off since I fell under the spell of ‘crushcrushcrush’. Compare Riot! and brand new eyes and now this record with the songlessness of much of the ‘alternative’ and ‘pop’ music dumped into the world by musicians and record labels who really should know better, and it seems ridiculous that people would dismiss Paramore because their style of music is “uncool” (oh shut up your dubstep berks, you all like to forget you grew up obsessed with Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American, The Downward Spiral, and perhaps most relevant to this review Dookie) or you could foolishly consider their huge success as some “too big not to sound like an epic fail” “punk-pop” “hideous emo band” "nonsense". [If you want to hear this full diatribe, it’s yours for the price of a pint and an hour or three of your life...] However, this is not the ‘In Defense of Paramore’ essay that I’m destined to one-day write.
‘Fast In My Car’ opens the album with the gusto of Metric’s ‘Combat Baby’ and the snarl of Be Your Own Pet/Giant Drag/Blood Brothers/Head Automatica. First, third, fifth and fifteenth impressions of this song are all the same: ohmygosh THE DRUMS (care of former Nine Inch Nails sticksman Ilan Rubin) and THOSE RIFFS are incredible. Before you have chance to catch your breathe or skip back to listen again, the album’s first single ‘Now’ wrestles Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O to the floor and frolics through a war-torn discotheque with Les Savy Fav/The Faint squall of noise set to explode in your heart.^^^^
However, if the first two songs are a sensational jolt to your system, this songwriting almost seems weak in comparison to the Incubus-y ‘Ain’t it Fun’; a gargantuan feel-good summer hit just waiting to be unleashed It’s the sort of song which blew the Chilli Peppers and Metallica from arenas to stadiums. In fact, it’s a rare Paramore 'pop' track which seems to gaze beyond the traditional/predictable MTV2/VH1 pool of inspirations; there’s a hint of the Jackson 5 in the handclaps and perhaps - due to the fact it was recorded in Prince’s room at Sunset Sound studios - a hint of Prince’s trademark twin-tracked vocals. There’s also a chant-a-long (see also: the "hive-rock" foot-note) middle-eight, which manages to sound a little bit gospel whilst recalling those end of album tracks by punk bands like Pennywise and Rancid, and simultaneously bringing to mind nostalgic memories of sweaty summer house parties soundtracked by ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ and Sublime’s ‘What I Got’. Of course, all of this is wrapped in an almost annoyingly infectious earworm-of-a-melody that you’ll be humming whether you want to or not. In fact, if ‘Ain’t It Fun’ doesn’t goto number one in all the major charts worldwide, win a Grammy and rack up an obscene amount of YouTube views, I’ll eat my modem.
The big crowd sing-a-long also rears its head on ‘Last Hope’, although in this instance the grand scale is tempered by a gentle glock and some magnificent widescreen drums, walls of guitars and a bass line that sounds like the spring beneath the feet of a thousand pogoing 'kidz'.
Then there’s the album’s standout track ‘Still Into You’, which has a kitten-cuteness to it that just shouldn’t be possible in a track written by the children of Green Day. It's day-glo brashness is irksome on first listen, but repeated listens (and I think I'm probably about at 50 plays of this tune now... I nearly didn't get around to listening to the record, it's that good!) reveals a Police quality to the bass and a Phil Collins-like grace to the drums amongst the song’s bluster, which is not something you get to write in a record review very often. It’s uplifting to the max. Romantic to its core. This is a true classic.
After 15 listens to the record (it would be more if I didn’t keep listening to to ‘Still Into You’ like some weird obsessive emotional hoarder), ‘Anklebiters’ is also clearly especially special. It could easily have been lifted from The Living End’s self-titled breakthrough album. Or maybe Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. It’s a hyper-brash coming together of the alt-rock dream... It’s the sort of song that would be the album’s standout track, if this wasn’t an album with so many standout tracks.
However, at 17 songs and with various sounds, textures and genres experimented with, there are a few tracks which are not so much filler, but feel a little like misadventures (‘Daydreaming' in particular). Then again, some of these trips off-piste were worth the risk. The choruses of ‘Proof’ take a rewarding genre swerve, with hints of
a bastardized post-modern flip of country-rock, bringing to mind a mash-up of Gaga’s ‘You and I’ throwing some of those two-tone No Doubt-shaped grooves.^^^^^ ‘Hate To See Your Heart Break’ finds Hayley in a super-sweet and tender place, her voice sounding a little like Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis - it isn’t quite the brilliant lighters-aloft ballad of brand new eyes’ ‘The Only Exception’, sadly, but then what is?
‘Part II’ sounds like the second part of ‘Decode’ (which in itself sounded a bit like a response to Evanescence’s ‘Bring Me to Life’) but there’s a Cure-like Interpol-filtered shadowy quality to this, which only adds to the problem of trying to succinctly sum up a record that feels more like a masterful rock-vs-rock voyage through 30 years of influences, rather than something you can put a pithy sound-bite to. Which is perhaps why they opted for a self-title, rather than calling it something predictable like Sweetness & Sorrow or Dark/Light.
Lyrically, lines like “What a shame we all remain such fragile things... butterflies with punctured wings!” and “Scars left on my heart, formed patterns in my mind” on ‘Part II’ will make it hard for the band to shake the the 'emo' mis-filing of their music (and to be honest, emo is never used a derogatory term in my world. It’s a badge of honour that I’ll happily wear on my sleeve, chest, forehead...), but for all her Tumblr-ing about Morrissey and literature, Hayley has never been foolish enough to proclaim to be the new Dylan. Above everything else, this is a record about every tone and shade of love - from friendship to forever-ever-ever-after to the gut-punch of loss to how you feel about yourself; your hopes, your dreams (whilst skirting around ideas of fitting in and standing out). It’s these intense contrasts of life, which pepper their wise-beyond-their-years feel-good songs. Hayley’s lyrics illuminate the disparity of the heart (and of course, yes, anything that touches on “emotions” can be cast aside as “emo fluff” but you’re so wrong, that you most probably left a nasty comment before getting anywhere near this far into this review).
Somewhat surprisingly, the record ends with a lo-fi recording of crashing drums and the dirty riff of 'Future'. It’s unclear whether it’s a jam or an idea-track, which perhaps led to ‘Now’, but despite lacking the instant appeal (The hooks! The killer choruses!) of much of the bands work, this demo-like acoustic strum which evolves into something Sonic Youthily humungous is an interesting clue as to what makes them tick, and perhaps where they might head next...
Above all else, it’s the spectacular production that sets Paramore apart from most other things and lightyears ahead of most ‘alternative’ records you’ll hear this year (except for maybe Foals’ newie). Producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who’s worked with everyone from Beck and Tori Amos to Nine Inch Nails and most recently M83 and Tegan & Sara), has evolved the band’s sound from an all-out face-melting miltiary-perfect bluster-fest, into an astounding aural experience, without losing any of the exhilarating thrill of their punk-roots. Paramore feels far more human and honest than anything the band have committed to tape to date, and even at its most intense, the record feels intimate (or at least like a gig happening in the back corner of your mind). To harness everything that's great about this band and to bring that humanity to their radio-friendly, stadium-bound songs is an impressive feat for everyone involved. Then again, in a time of so much style over substance, if the songs weren't this great, all that studio suss would be for nothing.
^ = including two life-accelerating nights at London’s O2, which left this critic giddy and grinning like an idiot - an idiot with a hoarse voice from singing along - for weeks... The mere mention of it brings me out in goosebumps!
^^ = Perplexingly, Paramore have always been a band on the verge of collapse. Thankfully, this fight-or-flight, death-or-glory state-of-mind seems to work well for them. Wise old sages from Nietzsche to Chuck Palahniuk have said a sense of mortality can really focus the mind about the-point-of-things, and that it can also free you to live in the moment and create something worthy of the history books. This post-YOLO message is one that’s both timeless and universal, and it the top the list of reasons why these songs resonate so powerfully. Of course, thoughts of love and death have always been at the core of most great pop songs and every successful rock’n’roll band, so it’s little wonder that these two key concepts - entwined like serpents - have been a driving force back, front and center with Paramore’s inspiration and success. (Sometimes it’s like they channel these emotions with such precision into my hopes, stroke the misery of lost loves and make me nostalgic for youthful exuberance and believing everything is/was possible... I have a few crackpot conspiracy theories, pondering how much of what they craft is loaded with hidden messages or whether all those oh’s and woahs and uh-uh’s are Hayley singing in tongues or playing some super-clever psychological mind-trickery, because music - rock, pop or punk in whichever way you care to append these words together - this seemingly light and brash isn’t meant to crack the seal on emotions that I spend so much of my life suppressing...)
^^^ = hive-rock is a new genre concept I’ve been working on. It’s music written for the crowds hive-mind. It’s easy to confuse an anthem that people feel compelled to join in with, with something that provokes a much deeper connection, and is purpose-built for a crowd call-and-response. This concept may require a thesis length essay, check back for that soon.
^^^^ = And yes, I realise that’s just two songs in, and a heap of hipster-friendly band names name-checked, but if any of those bands had released ‘Now’ as a single you wouldn’t be able to move for critically acclaim and bloggers going nuts... the fact ‘Now’ racked up 6million YouTube views before this review ran, without a Bowie-like media-storm, should say something or other.
^^^^^ = Particularly like the line in ‘Proof’: “Come up for air, so we know you won’t drown” - much-like The Shins, drowning is imagery that Hayley comes back to quite a few times. Not that DiS is reading anything into their lack of mentions of Rolling Stones or Pitchforks...
9Sean Adams's Score