“I’ve counted to ten and I’m feelin’ alright/ And besides, I’m moving on.” These words populate the first of four ukulele interludes/volleys of spite thrown by Hayley Williams on Paramore’s fourth and best release. At first glance, these songs serve little purpose other than to break up the pace of the action (I mean, who really needs ukulele songs in 2013?) on what is a stunning collection of songs, but a deeper look at the themes on Paramore reveals them to be human cracks in a herculean effort. For a band that famously and messily lost two founding members (and Williams’ primary songwriting partner), there was every reason to create an album that wallowed in its own pity and hurt feelings. Hell, there was barely reason to keep it together at all. Instead, Williams and her two partners in crime (this, more than any Paramore release, feels like a band, rather than Hayley & The Boys) took some time to regroup and found out a very important if possibly obvious truth about themselves: it’s really fun to be in a band!
This feeling permeates throughout Paramore, an album that embodies the feeling of exuberance, aside from the aforementioned interludes. There, Williams unleashes her best spurned lover tone to address the aftermath of Farrogate, but in a way, these outbursts are necessary to move on. Around them, the band mines stranger and exhilarating territory, rounding through the synth-stomp open-road ode “Fast In My Car,” lapping the 2013 version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with lead single “Now,” and nodding back to their past with a pop-punk earworm of a chorus in “Daydreaming.” That’s all within the first four songs, and arguably the weakest part of the album.
Paramore is a band that even when they were intact in membership, went through a variety of incarnations; from All We Know Is Falling’s heart-on-sleeve emo fascimile, to RIOT!’s mega-successful pop-punk, and especially to the confused and muddled attempt to ‘grow up’ on brand new eyes. That last album is the most important to look at when making sense of Paramore, as this fourth release takes every lesson learned from that weak-ish effort and pumps it full of steroids. brand new eyes’s band manifesto “Looking Up” (“I can’t believe we almost hung it up/ We’re just getting started”) morphs into the aforementioned “Now,” a snarling declaration that, shit, the future is every next moment. “The Only Exception,” arguably the most successful song in the band’s catalog and certainly the most beautiful, has its acoustic tendrils all over Paramore‘s “Hate To See Your Heart Break,” a more brutally realistic and mature song about being more friend than lover, despite what the other person may want. Here, Williams’ considerable vocal talents are backed up by perhaps some ill-advised string accoutrements, but she carries it anyway.
This isn’t, however, the Hayley Williams Show; Jeremy Davis continues his solid work on the bass here, providing meat to some of the floatier songs, while new songwriting partner and guitarist Taylor York proves yet again to be Paramore’s secret weapon, crafting catchy riff after catchy riff. Take, for example, new single “Still Into You,” whose start and stop guitar work plays off of some of the most earnestly lovestruck lyrics of Paramore’s career: “Let them wonder how we got this far/ ’cause I don’t need to wonder at all,” sings Williams, pure jubilation with the widest smile. “Still Into You,” as well as the following song (“Anklebiters”), are the two biggest callbacks to the essence of the band among a sea of exploration and experimentation.
But, truthfully, Paramore’s past is not as interesting as its future. There are four songs that work in unison both to entice superfans and bring on new ones for the ride ahead. Album closer “Future” starts with the same bed-ridden desperation as brand new eyes closer “All I Wanted,” before morphing into what can best be described as the world’s first pop-punk tribute to Godspeed! You Black Emperor. It’s fucking awesome. “Proof” is a nod to those who have been around since the All We Know days, thundering drums and power chords abound. Williams even adds some light gender-bending to its chorus, a new tactic from a songwriter who generally rides cliches with effort rather than guile. It’s less “Don’t You Want Me” and more something momentarily intriguing. “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls” is by far the funniest song that the band has ever put out to tape, but the humor doesn’t come intentionally from Williams’ lyrics; she’s not playing obsession for laughs here. Instead, she’s exaggerating the depths of insanity that lovers often dip into it, and while she may not be one of those crazy girls, she’s certainly crazy enough to be in love. We laugh because we relate; we laugh, because too often, we have been made to cry.
The pinnacle here, however, is the bombastic, choir-assisted, Jackson 5-reminisicent “Ain’t It Fun.” In a 5-minute period, Williams, Davis, and York have managed to create the perfect Paramore song, one that no one could have seen coming. In front of a meaty guitar and booming drums, the verses tease and play around with its subject, adding in the dance-ready synth splashes to up the titular fun. But then comes the chorus, and oh boy, does it arrive. “Ain’t it fun! Living! In the real world!” These are both jabs and blocks, this is Goliath getting a hand up from David. The song is Paramore’s return from the brink in a nutshell, and they aren’t crying. When the choir kicks in, it feels both unexpected and like an old friend; of course this band would use a choir, you say! That’s because, throughout all the turmoil and doubt, one thing that never left Paramore is its teenage invulnerability. It’s just been through the flames and back again, and ain’t that fun?