Paramore – ‘After Laughter’

By Kathryn Black

Pop music is a genre often sneered at, judged by so-called critics. Recently replaced by the increased popularity of house music – repetitive beats with lyrics that have little or no meaning – the genre has somewhat fallen from grace. Little Mix have made some progress in reminding us of the joy that it brings with their own (questionable) take on feminism and songwriters who seriously know what they’re doing, but the charm that made the ’80s and ’90s such a prominent time for pop among rock and grunge has disappeared, often left to fester in dingy, themed club nights.

Paramore’s new album ‘After Laughter’ is here to remind us why we all loved pop in the first place; why it was the Spice Girls we sung into our hairbrushes and why Blondie are still adored decades later. When ‘Hard Times’ was revealed in a bright, animated flash, it wasn’t met with as many disapproving groans as usual – maybe those who complain about Paramore not being the same band they were years ago are finally over it (we can dream). Taylor York’s vocoder made an appearance and the band’s new, unapologetic style made its mark. Paramore, now a three piece with an ambition to grow up and have fun, riding on the wave of their reformed friendships, showed they meant business and they don’t really care if you were listening or not.

The opening bars of ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ were made for Black Mirror’s San Junipero. With more colourful imagery, the joyful, chatty vocals dotted between the warm, welcoming choruses are fun and upbeat. Perhaps the most guitar-dominated track on the album, it’s a nod to the more alternative roots of the band, but headed in a clear, new direction: one that confirms Paramore as a pop band. There are ’80s influences throughout and each melody is diverse, but the real intrigue lies in the lyrics.

Pop isn’t a meaningless void of party tunes: it’s upbeat melodies with an underlying meaning, proof that raw, difficult emotions can be dealt with in the mainstream, not just in the ‘alternative’ realm. ‘Forgiveness’ may be pointing the finger outwards, but there remains an introspective viewpoint: “I can barely hang on to myself,” Williams whispers between the dominant lines of the chorus. Even during ‘Grudges’ Williams asks “could it be that I’ve changed?” questioning herself. There’s a continued theme of anxiety and self-doubt throughout the album, but one foot firmly in reality at all times. ‘Idle Worship’ isn’t afraid to suggest we can’t expect help when we’re unwilling to help ourselves: “we all got problems, don’t we? We all need heroes, don’t we? But rest assured there’s not a single person here who’s worthy.”

Rather than hiding her mental health behind loud, soaring guitars, heavy rock drums, and – verging on bitchy – pop punk anthems (looking at you, ‘Misery Business’) ‘Fake Happy’ lays it all on the table. Williams takes charge of a minimalist, synth and bass driven track, ensuring we all hear what she has to say. From the gentle opening of “I love making you believe that what you get is what you see” to the determined, “oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too,” it laughs in the face of hiding how you truly feel.

It’s not all about Williams, however. ‘No Friend’ uses Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou’s spoken word to say “if nothing comes of it then just know we are grateful” – a sentiment the band have made fairly obvious in the lead up to the release. Without York’s musical influences, Williams may never have been inspired to continue and the reintroduction of Zac Farro reminds us that moving forward doesn’t have to mean letting go.

‘26’ urges us to hold on to hope. Following a number of line-up changes and personal issues, that’s exactly what Paramore are doing. Negativity will always be around us and 2017 is doing its best to give us as much of it as possible, but pop music is the perfect antidote. ‘After Laughter’ is a big step away from previous Paramore albums, but it looks like they’re finally moving on from the past. It’s not about pretending the dark side of life doesn’t exist, but laughing it off with song, dance and – most of all – friends instead.

KATHRYN BLACK

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