Hearing the evolution of Paramore’s sound has been a delight. They’ve drifted from the youthful angst and rebellion that characterised Riot! and Brand New Eyes and turned a corner with their 80s pop-inspired fifth album After Laughter. They’ve stopped hiding behind a gleaming, undefeatable exterior pretending that everything is fine. After Laughter is about acknowledging that you’re struggling and Paramore have unabashedly let their barriers down in order to remind us that it is important to take the time to stop, reflect and breathe.
Things have been difficult for Paramore over the last few years. Since releasing their self-titled album in 2013, they’ve parted ways with former long-term bassist Jeremy Davis and been re-joined by their old drummer Zac Farro, who left the band in 2010. In past albums, Paramore have responded to conflict and change with confidence; their infectious optimism portrayed them as unbreakable, a beacon of hope – take ‘Misery Business’ for example. After Laughter sees Paramore refusing fake happiness and turning to honesty.
Dynamic opening track ‘Hard Times’ throws the juxtaposition between After Laughter’s sound and lyrics into the open: “all that I want, is to wake up fine, tell me that I’m alright, that I ain’t gonna die”. Hayley Williams’s despondent lyrics seem at odds with the track’s neon groove and bright 80s pop vibes. This reinforces how outwardly things can be deceiving – much like the inaccuracy of the image they feel has been projected onto their band prior to this album. Guitarist Taylor York was the main driving force behind After Laughter and his riffs make ‘Told You So’ the catchiest track on the album. Drawing inspiration from the funk/rhythm of 80s pop and rock, he’s pushed Paramore’s sound to bigger and better places outside of the box they’d been penned into.
The bouncy synths and sugar-sweet hooks of ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ make it one of After Laughter’s strongest tracks. They’ve taken note of everything that made ‘Ain’t It Fun’ successful and run with it, surpassed it. Lyrically the track establishes the band’s exhaustion: “I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me”. Sweeping your struggles aside constantly is damaging. Paramore don’t want to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles anymore, they want to be honest and confront the pain they’re feeling: “just let me cry a little bit longer, I ain’t gon’ smile if I don’t want to”. The jagged riffs and anxious lyrics of ‘Caught in the Middle’ suggest feelings of entrapment and uncertainty: “I try to keep going but it’s not that simple”. York’s riffs and Farro’s drums work seamlessly together.
‘Forgiveness’ takes a slower pace, but poignant introspective vocals and gently echoing riffs make it a tranquil and buoyant ballad. The serene synth in ‘Pool’ shimmers and glistens like rippling water. ‘Grudges’ is about reconciliation and lost time: “cause now I feel you by my side, and I don’t even care if it’s been a while”. The lyrics directly reference their rekindled friendship with Farro and his return to the band.
‘Tell Me How’ is After Laughter’s most lyrically mature track. It’s about trying to make sense of disaster: “I know you think that I erased you, you may hate me, but I can’t hate you”. The wistful piano accompaniment and Williams’s pained vocals are haunting. Farro’s drums and York’s sparse riffs shudder underneath the tangible desolation and grief present in her evocative vocals: “you keep me up with your silence, take me down with your quiet, of all the weapons you fight with, your silence is the most violent”. ‘Tell Me How’ proves that they’ve mastered the new pop territory that the album fearlessly explores.
After Laughter is lyrically and sonically the best and most mature album that Paramore have released to date. They’ve proved that they can do anything – they’ve ripped apart the boundaries that confined them previously and destroyed misconceptions about the frivolity of pop music. After Laughter is a complete embracing of the direction that Paramore wanted to go in. It feels freer and less constrained than previous releases – it’s beautifully sincere. Don’t dismiss it without listening, you’ll regret it.