Paramore – ‘This is Why’

By Fiachra Johnston

Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it? One moment, you’re fifteen, what feels like near limitless opportunities have just opened up to you and youthful invincibility has taken hold. The next, you’re thirty, and there’s a weariness tangled in your bones like you’ve walked through cobwebs. For Hayley Williams and her ever lovable rogue’s gallery, those cobwebs have shaped the band’s direction through their quiet hiatus after 2017’s ‘After Laughter’ as they stepped away from the band altogether to work on solo projects and escape the shadow of the juggernaut that Paramore has become (and all the baggage it comes with). Nearly twenty years on from releasing some of the most seminal pop-punk of the 2000’s, the trio are emerging from global catastrophe to put their melancholic disposition into words in ‘This Is Why’.

As you can gather from the titular lead single that opens the album, Paramore have moved away from the dreamy electropop influences of ‘After Laughter’ in favour of a chunkier 2000’s britrock sound, drawing chiefly from their current touring partners Bloc Party. Buzzing staccato guitars and funk-inspired bass are the name of the game throughout all three singles in particular, with both ‘The News’ and ‘C’est Comme Ça’ joining ‘This Is Why’ to create a pre-release thesis statement: everything is exhausting. The 24-hour news cycle, the addiction of living in stagnation, the pressures of a spotlight; there’s a heavy weight crushing down on Paramore’s world, and this isn’t an album of healing but a sepia-toned scream into the void.

There’s more variance in Paramore’s British rock influences than the singles reveal though. Zac Farro’s drums in particular lean into the broader alternative scene, drawing from Foals and Snow Patrol in tracks like ‘You First’, which cranks the melodrama to 11 with hectic anxiety. The lackadaisical yet sharp-tongued ‘Big Man Little Dignity’ (it wouldn’t be a Paramore record without at least one scathing hit piece) evokes the sardonicism of Lily Allen’s pop in it’s brutal deconstruction of the target that is perhaps a cover for its own anxieties on maturing. Even within this indie rock soundscape, there’s more to ‘This Is Why’ sonically than the singles would have you believe. This means the singles, drenched in that britrock sound and frontloaded onto the record, stick out more prominently than their albummates, but fortunately they rarely stray far from those screeching 2000’s guitars. Perhaps purposefully however, the style is dropped altogether in ‘Liar’, a sweet confession of love from bandmate to bandmate that admits fault for fighting against something inevitable There’s even a tongue in cheek reference to the last time the relationship was brought up in ‘Crystal Clear’ from Williams solo work, something this track borrows heavily from.

Even if the move into alt rock doesn’t satisfy everyone’s craving for the emo of old, instrumentally, this is still Paramore’s magnum opus, and it’s the meat of what makes ‘This Is Why’ feel like their most complete record. Perhaps it’s the comfort of being the first lineup that’s been carried over from a previous album, but Farro and York push so many of these tracks into greatness with sharp performances and some of the catchiest hooks the band have come up with. ‘Figure 8’ borrows elements from Paramore’s various old school sounds from ‘Brand New Eyes’ and beyond, accompanied by a surprisingly fitting bassoon and wind section that really highlights just how well the duo’s drum and guitar lines compliment every other aspect of the album, from the accompanying instruments to Williams’ own vocal performance.

Williams is never one to fall behind either, merging a lot of her vocal style from her two solo releases into these performances, something that may end up being one of the more divisive aspects of the record over the band’s overall change in style. It’s hard to find fault with one of the most prominent frontwomen of the 21st century but charisma still shines through the miasma of uncertainty each track highlights. ‘Running Out Of Time’ could be a grand metaphor for how time seems to speed up as we get older, but ultimately it comes off as a humorous monologue from Hayley complaining that on top of everything else, she just can’t help but hit snooze on the alarm. There’s some daring vocal choices that fail to reach the highs the rest of the album is capable of, such as ‘Crave’, an anxious lamentation over chasing nostalgic times over the here and now which features some experiments in range that don’t really represent what Williams is truly capable of.

The production certainly helps everything coalesce together, with a fogginess that never interferes with the instrumentation or vocals. There’s a weight to these tracks, like a layer of dust that hasn’t been wiped away yet, and in both the album’s most explosive moments and when things get desperately quiet you always feel the same heaviness the trio seem desperate to crawl out from under. It all lends to the notion that Paramore remain the masters of interweaving gravitas with softness, as we close with ‘Thick Skull’, the album’s rawest piece of introspection. It’s the most comprehensive track of the ten, with everyone working to create something greater than the sum of its parts. York contrasts droning shoegaze electric guitars with morose backing acoustic strings, Farro adding touches of what sounds like marching percussion into his stellar drumming, even Williams’ joining on piano as she confronts the past trauma of the band in impressive manner. All three are at their absolute best in their refusal to be eternally buried by the insecurities of the past.

Maybe that’s this record’s greatest strength. Like with ‘After Laughter’ before it, Paramore’s defiance of its own history makes for, if nothing else, another standout release. ‘This Is Why’ is, in subject matter, a rather miserable album, often treading the line between miasmic and full on depressed at the band’s state of affairs the world beyond. Yet there are little rebellions throughout; the willingness to look after yourself above all else in the title track, the 2am whispered confessions that love will win in ‘Liar’, the acceptance that inevitably, we will all move on in ‘Thick Skull’. Below the surface level exhaustion that exudes from each track, hope still springs eternal.

‘This Is Why’ feels like an ending. It’s a record that could only be released by a band fully realised and fully matured, one that accepts its history but is no longer handcuffed to it. The trio have created something defining, one filled with all the love and misery that twenty years in the business inspire, exhaustion and perseverance interwoven like threads on a tapestry. It’s the last record on their contract, it could even be the last album altogether, but if this is the end, Paramore have made it clear here they have no plans to leave unceremoniously: they will close this era of their careers on a full stop, not a question mark.


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