I didn’t take much notice of Paramore until 2009’s Brand New Eyes and even that album only garnered a listen to the song “Brick By Boring Brick.” At some point or other I, like most other people, heard “Misery Business”, but – overall – I didn’t really pay much attention to Paramore. They weren’t attacking my sensibilities; they were fairly listenable pop music. For whatever reason, maybe all the drama (there’s no such thing as bad publicity), I actually sat down to listen to their newest output, the self-titled Paramore.
From what I’ve heard of their previous work, the band has gone further away from pop punk and rock songs to straight-up pop music. The album is ambition with plenty of big hooks and songs that tend to be on the long side. Things start out with the awkwardly-named “Fast in my Car” wherein lead singer Hayley Williams ranges from monotonous spoken words to long, drawn out lines to yelped, energetic bits over electronic pop music. For my taste, the whole feel-good angle of the track and the synthy elements don’t hold my interests, but the change-ups keep my attention. The song sets the stage for an album released in the shadow of the very public loss of two members, which makes it hard to not read into songs with messages ranging from “we’re doing great” to straight-up jabs to “it’s best to move on” as all being directed toward the Farro brothers.
Two songs later, “Grow Up” is a mellower track with a chorus about the importance of growing up and leaving those that don’t mature behind. The interludes “Moving On,” “Holiday,” and “I’m Not Angry Anymore” also seem to hint at a focus on bettering on oneself rather than staying bitter and petty after a rough split. Ironically, that general sentiment sometimes comes across as a bit petty. “Ain’t it Fun” asks the sometimes grammatically incorrect questions, what’re you gonna do when the world don’t open up ‘round you? / So what’re you gonna do when nobody wants to fool with you? Ain’t it fun / livin’ in the real world? / ain’t it good / being all alone? Ain’t it good to be on your own? / Ain’t it fun, you can’t count on no one? before a gospel choir comes in to sing “don’t go crying to your momma / ‘cause you’re on your own in the real world. With these Motown elements, it’s nice to hear the band stretching their legs and trying new things.
The album, of course, isn’t entirely about trimming the fat amongst one’s friends and moving on from bad situations. There are songs, such as “Still Into You” and “Proof,” about love. And there are introspective songs – not that any of these topics are mutually exclusive. One of the more philosophical songs is the mellow “Last Hope” that slowly builds as Williams sings that she is worried she isn’t growing up as time goes on, before the song’s overall message about staying positive and anticipating a brighter future.
The most direct, "punkest" song on the album is the little-over-two-minutes “Anklebiters” that speeds along with a strong beat and gang vocals on the eponymous line. A few songs later, “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” sounds like if Best Coast tried to write a Nerf Herder song (but they forgot to make masturbation jokes or be self-deprecating). It’s apparently about breaking into a man’s home and smelling his clothing, and is bizarrely out of place on the album considering the rest of the love songs tend to paint a picture of a happy couple rather than a dumped woman calling her ex-boyfriend 100 times. Along with “Crazy Girls,” all the ukulele-driven interludes (there are three) display a strong Best Coast influence. They’re quick, pleasant tracks that generally fit nicely into the album while avoiding any chance of monotony or overstaying their welcome.
Things close with “Future.” There’s some quiet talking over a simple, calm guitar before Williams takes one last chance to sing about not focusing on the past. “Future” highlights the duality of much of the album’s lyrics. The song seems pretty clearly in response to the Farro brothers leaving, but the lyrics also seem to be written in an effort to tell others, in a more general sense, to not get too caught up in petty squabbles and not let others drag them down. As Williams quietly sings just think of the future / and think of your dreams, you can imagine Paramore trying to move past the split just as easily as one can picture some kid listening to the song after having a rough day. The song goes on to become a bit noisier with pounding drums and guitar and bass lines ala The Distillers’ “Death Sex” before the track fades out and then returns for some reason.
The big question the album leaves me with is “was it worth it?” I’m sure this will sell like hot cakes and be worth it in that sense, but – in the artistic sense – was it really worth it? Was it necessary to make a double LP? Many of the songs have an undertone that they may have benefitted from a bit more time to reflect. Some songs sound like kneejerk responses to a feeling that the band needs to prove or defend themselves. As a result, there is a combination of “fuck you” songs and other, more thought-out takes on the same situations mixed with songs delving into other topics. I personally feel that naming the album Paramore was a big enough “suck a butthole,” but I can’t pretend that I would have passed up the opportunity if put in the position. Then again, I recall that “Misery Business” was pretty bitter and petty and that seemed to be well-received. It strikes me that, with all the references to leaving the bad things behind, the band could have culled a few of the weaker songs and left those behind. Though, based on the singles, it seems like they would have dropped the ones I preferred. I also get the feeling this album wasn’t meant for my enjoyment and the people who have been anticipating it will probably love it. What do I know? The ukulele during the interludes kind of just makes me want to go watch the Jerk.