Image Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson for The New York Times
After Laughter sends Paramore sliding back into the music scene with addictive hooks, acrobatic vocals and a mature power-pop album.
Paramore have buried their pop-punk roots and orange hair, moving towards cleaner, sun-kissed pop tunes accompanied by lyrics that are more doom and gloom. Along with the return of drummer Zac Farro, Paramore’s experimentation with their newfound sound reveals they’re laid-back, sarcastic and blunt about where they stand.
Taking on a more 1980’s pop vibe inspired by Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper and Blondie, their newest record gives off a sunny disposition with tunes suited to long car trips and chilling with friends. But packaged beneath these synth-kissed songs is a bitterness that will have you wondering whether the angst ever really left Paramore. Touching on themes of depression, exhaustion and anxiety, After Laughter opens with ‘Hard Times’, a synth-pop disco tune about going through the motions of a difficult time and feeling like you have nothing left to give. ‘Told You So’ and ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ follow the same sprightly tone that will have you nodding your head in time despite the glum lyrics.
As Williams’ saccharine vocals soar through the album, York’s deft guitar inspired by Afrobeat, keyboard and Farro’s drumming are key to the character of After Laughter. With high-life rhythms, the melodious angst weaves itself throughout the tracks: ‘Tell Me How’ touches on the anxiety of losing a friend (“Of all the weapons you fight with / Your silence is the most violent”) and ‘Fake Happy’ is basically about faking a smile for the world to make them think you’re okay (“See I’m gonna draw my lipstick wider than my mouth / And if the lights are low they’ll never see me frown”). The bouncy vibe of ‘Pool’ is a shimmering refresher while the string-laden ’26’ is an older and maturer version of ‘The Only Exception’ from their third studio album, Brand New Eyes (“Reality will break your heart”).
Each track is unique in itself, nothing sounding too similar to blend in with the rest of the album. ‘Idle Worship’ is a snarky comment on the idea of fame; ‘Grudges’ is an addictive tune about letting the past go that will have you bouncing on your seat. On the other side, ‘Forgiveness’ is a dreamy ballad reminiscent of John Hughes movies – they are really digging the 80s vibe. ‘No Friend’ is definitely one that will leave you wondering what is going on. As the second last track on the album, it has replaced Williams with MeWithoutYou front man Aaron Weiss, whose soft vocals aren’t apparent initially, drowned out over the menacingly frantic blend of bass and guitars. It’s frightening yet exciting, not a hint of Paramore at all as it paves a path for a new sound to be born from the band.
With each album, Paramore grow bolder and step further from their comfort zone. As a band they matured despite the messy lineups and multiple moments when the members were ready to call it quits. After Laughter feels like a giant step away from their roots and a breath of fresh air for the band. It’s brilliantly produced, stuffed with hooks, soothing rhythms and a serrated edge that sits just outside the realm of pop. Nevertheless it will satisfy fans and new listeners alike.