Paramore Deliver Sad Lyrics Alongside Cheery 80s Pop on ‘After Laughter’
Paramore’s unfaltering commitment to the pop-punk scene in the early aughts is what helped them rise to the top of Warped Tour fanaticism and into the mainstream. Their first two records were worshiped by fans of the genre. The hard-hitting guitars and angst-ridden lyrics carried by Hayley Williams’ powerful pipes became a winning combination—one that brought them huge success but also one did not allow for much artistic growth. Paramore gave us just a taste of what would become their new direction on their 2013 self-titled record. Flirting with pop punk flourishes, it felt as if these three Tennessee rockers were finally ready and confident enough to present their fans with another side of themselves. It makes their fifth record, “After Laughter,” that much more impressive. A true summer pop album, “After Laughter” is a modern take on the lovable joy music had back in the 1980s. Finally shedding their pop-punk cocoon for polished synths and purposeful guitars, the album is unexpectedly satisfying. Not to worry: these shiny new pop bangers do come with some lyrical darkness keeping things from getting too sweet.
References to their emo/punk past are scarce. This makes for a welcome departure unless you are particularly fond of the vacuum that was 2005-2007. Opening with the effervescent tropical beats of “Hard Times,” Paramore comes right out of the gates with a new outlook. The tracks are in fact so upbeat and cheery that it is difficult to discern that the lyrics carrying these melodies are not quite as chipper. “For all I know / The best is over and the worst is yet to come” hits you hard once you get past the handclaps on “Told You So.” The catharsis continues on tracks like “Grudges” and “Pool,” while some classic rock stylings rear their head on the record’s astute power ballad “Forgiveness.” Mixing things up with beautifully orchestrated strings on “26,” Paramore takes a note from early No Doubt and brings in some dance-inducing ska on “Caught In The Middle.” Peppered with drum machines, punchy sweet vocals and synthesizers, “After Laughter” is truly a record beholden to the pop greats of the 1980s. Reverberations of the works of Blondie, Talking Heads and even Heart can be felt throughout. While the sounds are saccharine, Williams’s lyrics examine nothing close to it. Instead, she chooses to delve into themes of personal frustration and self-destruction, a mature choice for the once adolescent punksters.
What is admirable about Paramore is their willingness to try new things: with each record, the trio steps just a little farther outside their comfort zone. A little bolder, a little more themselves each time, it’s refreshing to find a group who wants nothing more than to escape the walls they built the last time around. It took until their fifth album for these alternative rockers to fully toss away the vice grip pop punk seems to have over its artists. Muddled, guitar-driven angst has been replaced by jubilant yet grounded synths, and honestly, this may be the happiest this trio has ever sounded.
“After Laughter” is available on Apple Music May 12.