I am not a music critic and I don’t know much about all the musical elements that go into songs (notes, specific instruments, etc.). I’ve taken a few classes, but I never retain that stuff. But I do know what sounds good or bad and have been a Paramore fan since 2008. So I figure I’m qualified enough to review this album. To put it in short terms, Paramore’s fifth album, After Laughter, is a triumph. This album continues with the alt pop sound of their previous album, Paramore, but takes a more ‘80s approach. It is also more cohesive than its predecessor. It is an album born out of forgiveness, change, and Hayley Williams’ depression. While the album is upbeat and bright, the lyrics reveal the sadness hiding beneath: a very Millennial attitude. Williams’ voice soars over the music and transports us to another plane of existence: one where we don’t feel quite so alone. I would even go so far as to say this is one of Paramore’s best albums. Here is a track-by-track review of one of the early contenders for the best album of the year:
- Hard Times: This first single sums up the thesis of this album perfectly. Lyrically, it’s in that dark place where it feels like there’s no hope, while the music is bouncy and fun. This was the perfect choice for first single.
- Rose-Colored Boy: This song has a very familiar sentiment, bemoaning people who try to force you to cheer up. The “rose-colored boy” hasn’t yet woken to all the shittiness around him, while Williams is well aware of it and just wants a chance to feel for a while. This song is easily the best on the album.
- Told You So: This song describes the frustrating experience of finding out you were wrong, after everyone told you you were. It also frets that the best parts of Williams’ life are already behind her.
- Forgiveness: This song is perhaps one of the deepest on the album, talking about letting someone back into your life even if you can’t forgive them yet. This is another favorite.
- Fake Happy: This song further addresses the thesis of the album, revealing that you can put on a smile and pretend to be happy when you’re not. I especially love the line, “Don’t ask me how I am/ Don’t make me play pretend” because I’ve been there and it sucks so much. This is another favorite of mine.
- 26: This song is one of the only ballads on the album and harkens back to songs like “The Only Exception” and Misguided Ghosts” in tone, if not in theme. It’s a song about holding on to every last shred of hope and dreams you have because the loss will be too much to bear. Easily another favorite.
- Pool: This song is an underrated gem. Lyrically, it’s the most like their older music. It’s about a pretty dysfunctional relationship, but takes an almost desperate, yet sweet approach to it. Also a favorite.
- Grudges: This is another song about forgiveness, but it takes a much more optimistic approach. The relationship is being mended and they’re looking towards the future.
- Caught in the Middle: This song has a vague ska influence and basically sums up what it’s like to be in your twenties. You can’t go back to being a kid, but you’re not sure you’re ready to be an adult. This song also has the great line, “I don’t need no one else/ I can sabotage me by myself.”
- Idle Worship: This is a song about idolization and how celebrities can’t always be the pillar you hold yourself up with. Hayley declares that she will inevitably let those people down, but also suggests they’re still in this together.
- No Friend: This is perhaps the most risky song on the album, as it doesn’t even features Hayley’s voice. It’s dark, emo poetry, movingly read by Aaron Weiss. It’s also littered with old Paramore lyrics.
- Tell Me How: This is the only other ballad on the album and talks about someone who left your life, but you can’t bring yourself to hate. It has an also desperate hopefulness, as though the other person will have the answers you seek.
Overall, I thought this was a fantastic comeback album and I really like the direction the band is going in. Rather than (unrealistically) trying to return to their old, emo stuff with raging guitars and banging drums, they’ve found a new identity for their personal thoughts. The poppy sound does not take away from the emotion of this record and, in fact, adds to it by creating that disconnect that is unfortunately all too familiar. This album is easily one of my favorite Paramore records, second only to Brand New Eyes. I can’t wait to see where this era takes them.