When Paramore released the video for first single from this self titled fourth studio album, it seemed that the band had chosen to try something new; their three previous records being grounded firmly in pop-rock territory. Sporting an intriguingly bland look as opposed to her usual colourful persona, it looked like Hayley Williams and chums had embraced the world of indie-rock, leaving the pop behind. The finished product isn’t as adventurous as I was hoping, though is a record with a fair bit of variety; most of it successful, some of it less so.
Unbeknownst to me, brothers Josh and Zac Farro had left the band after touring previous album Brand New Eyes resulting in the loss of their lead guitarist and drummer, leaving only Jeremy Davis on bass and Taylor York now handling lead and rhythm duties. For Paramore the band drafted in Ilan Rubin who’s drumming pedigree included stints with Lostprophets and Nine Inch Nails. Truth be told, this knowledge wouldn’t have made any difference to me as it all sounds pretty good without signs of a line-up shuffle at all.
The album opens really well with the upbeat “Fast In My Car” and the aforementioned “Now”, but then it takes a total u-turn straight back into comfortable pop territory on “Grow Up” and “Daydreaming”, both tracks having their feet well planted in pop land. So much so I felt like I could’ve been listening to a Taylor Swift record instead. It’s a hell of a comedown from a promising start, but quickly picks back up again starting with the first of three interludes, “Moving On”. Each of the interludes are a simple subdued short vocal piece accompanied only by a little guitar or ukulele. They’re almost like a little off-cut preview of what could have been and since rejected. I’d love to have heard more of what they could’ve become.
Immediately following the interlude is what I think is the albums primary highlight, “Ain’t It Fun”. This is a total change of territory for the band, centring around a prominent funk/soul bass-line and half way through introducing a gospel style choir. It’s more Stevie Wonder than Paramore, a thought that’s only cemented when a male voice enters the chorus near the end. It’s an absolutely superb track and came at a particularly good time in the album’s track list as it re-engaged me and persuaded me to keep on listening hoping for more surprises. From there “Part II” is much like you’d expect from the band with “Last Hope” again branching out in a different direction whilst retaining their customary sound at the same time.
Second single “Still Into You” is another high point on the album although risks coming over all ‘Swifty’ again. “Ankle Biters” is again another great bit of upbeat tomfoolery and followed by the second of the interludes, “Holiday”. “Proof” is pretty much more of the standard Paramore template before the album takes another dip with two slower songs I initially thought began to make an otherwise entertaining record drag. On further listens though, I heard the goodness in them. They show a little variety with strings and xylophone on “Hate To See Your Heart Break” and “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” sports a 50’s groove before introducing the full band and beginning to inject some pace again. It honestly wouldn’t be out of place on the Grease soundtrack.
The third interlude, “I’m Not Angry Any More” follows, then rockier “Be Alone” before we reach the curious and daring album closer “Future”. Despite a familiar start, the song departs almost entirely from what you’d expect to hear from Paramore, being roughly recorded and a long and heavy slow burner. It weighs in at 7 minutes 53 seconds, a good 2 minutes longer than the next longest track. Dare I say by its end it even shows brave hints of bands like Deftones who can do this particular brand of lengthy drudge to great effect? The chorus sections are very rough and sound like a live recording with someone doing knee-slap percussion. Strangely it seems to suddenly fade out around 5 mins in just when it’s getting going before fading back in 10-15 seconds later. I really liked the song but it maybe won’t go down well with some, notably the listeners who prefer the pop end of the audio spectrum.
Throughout the album there is more electronic effects and backing, as well as introduction of new instruments and some great variety in the style of song. Hayley’s voice is particularly good and has more range than normal and lyrical content is largely positive suggesting they are in a good place. I think Paramore is a step in the right direction for the band, who appear to be looking to grow up and shed some of the pop and embrace more of the rock. It doesn’t always manage it in the end, but it definitely does re-engage my interest in the band.
Regarding my earlier Taylor Swift comments. If you are a parent and you’re trying to get your kids to embrace a bit of rock without resorting to shoving Iron Maiden down their throats, give them this to listen to. It should appeal to the pop sensibilities and maybe get them to embrace a rockier sound too. You never know. You might just manage to bring a few back from the Dark Side.
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