The first album since 2013, which revolved around the drummer, Zac Farro's return and reiterated to their fans there was no need to worry about the musical journey of the band and the death of teen angst being over as they were still working together creatively. However it's been a long and treacherous path to get to that place with various changes in line up and so, to me, who's followed them for a considerable amount of time it seems to be that this album is more of a rebirth and has a sense of new beginnings rather than a revival.
This album is definitely a grower and opens up the more you listen to it, after the initial listen, I was slightly bored and wasn't drawn into the whole new reimagining, perhaps because of my previous ideals of what the album was going to be like and not listening objectively. Yet with multiple listens you really explore the depth to the musical arrangement, the way each instrument is setting a pace and mingling with the other instruments. The vocal line weaves throughout the backdrop set by bouncy riffs that vary in intensity and the various levels of percussion and the relatable potency of the running lyrical themes and the way they've jumped out of their comfort zone whilst still keeping in tune with their pop-punk roots to a degree through certain punchiness and existential angst wrapped up in a rose tinted package.
The whole album has steered Paramore away from their old emo, pop-punk style they've perfectly epitomised over the years and are known for, in a seemingly natural evolutionary transition (to the untrained eye) to the pastel hued pop-punk they've created throughout this album and has driven them towards a more commercialised, top 40 style endeavour. The one thing that will always stay the same are the parallels of angst that still run rife throughout the album and throughout Paramore's music, this remains strong and obvious.
However it's almost as though they're trying to reach out to a newer, younger audience, rather than growing with their old fan base, which seems to be an odd move, especially after a four year chaotic hiatus with multiple line up changes, experimenting with the 80's synth, bitter sweet pop they seem to be working with now. It still has elements of their old style vocally due to the nature of the themes they're working with, the upbeat sound mixed with angsty lyrics but with a completely different aural style.
Now targeting the issues that come with ageing, hindsight and masking depression which is what the entire album seems to portray, that putting your best face on and facing the world whilst dropping subtle hints at the darkness within, mimics this social media culture we're living in where we only show the Instagram filtered versions of our lives and cannot address the negative, natural elements of human nature and understanding overtly. On the first listen I heard a light hearted, surface level album until I re-listened several times and paid attention to each detail instead of the overall package and it peaks and troughs in depth and darkness whilst always accompanied by an eerily ecstatic synth, guitar, drum ensemble to follow some kind of manic depressive, chaotic style of thinking.
The first released single is also the opening track "Hard Times" and sets the tone for the chaos Williams struggles with throughout the album, with herself, with romantic endeavours and general existence and growing older. Punky vocals reminiscent of old Paramore combined with this new animated, vibrant nuance. However the fourth track "Forgiveness" brings a slightly more downbeat vibe vocally, which is reminiscent of Paramore's old style both stylistically and lyrically, yet the jumpy, slightly offbeat guitar with multiple layers guitar, synth and percussion keep it in check with the rest of the album. "Fake Happy" takes this to another level though and the effects on the vocals in the beginning of the track combined with only being accompanied by acoustic guitar whilst she almost talks about putting on this guise to create an illusion. How nobody wants to see the truth and doesn't look hard enough to find it or both to listen even if it's obvious and her voice breaks just as it drops into the instruments and meatiness of the song. This whole section creates a dissonance and distance from the listener, also the stripped down, subdued nature makes you stop momentarily and pay more attention to the content as this is all there is to focus on, especially with the intentionally repetitive lyrics throughout the opening.
"Pool" has a very experimental, offbeat, John Cage, Steve Reich feel to it with the seemingly random opening notes falling like raindrops, daintily but with a darker presence like a deep body of water it inevitably joins up to eventually. The lyrics tell a different story that counteracts the bounciness and redefines it completely, making it a multidimensional and interesting track. The obscure sounding plinky, alien backing adds a deeper texture to it to and the added steel drums create a flowing, intertwined counter melody to the guitar and the vocal melody.
This concept that is so strongly focused upon throughout is overtly and overwhelmingly captured in "Caught in the Middle", play on words from reaching middle age and the tenuous realities of adulthood this song is a dichotomy of emotional velocity, the soft and bittersweet anthem creates an uncomfortable disconnection of the lyrics to the seemingly floaty sounding soundscape the guitar and rolling drums produce. "Idle Worship" seemed to me to be the most reminiscent of old Paramore with punkier, punchier vocals to begin with and throughout the verses and heavier riffs that reverberate through the track but then the chorus breaks into a lighter, bouncier experience. The chorus is somewhat reminiscent of Gospel through the backing that is prominent throughout the chorus, the running theme of self sabotage, internalisation and projection seem to come to a head in this track too. "No Friend" follows Idle Worship and seems to be a track that is a response or an accompaniment to the track, that even follows a similar musical pattern with the guitarist and drummer inverting and modulating the melody for Idle Worship that underlies the monologue, this seems to follow a moment of madness, breakthrough and enlightenment, it's instrumental and contains a barely audible monologue from Aaron Weiss, it seems to be the height of the existential crisis she seems to be toying with.
Throughout the album every instrument has been focused around and likened to percussion, melting into rhythmic melodies within one another, mimicking and following each melody. There is a lot of throw back to previous albums and songs also, in "26", which is a mellow tune with acoustic guitar accompaniment and ethereal strings which says "after all, wasn't I the one who said, to keep your feet on the ground" this links to her song "Brick by Boring Brick", from their Brand New Eyes album which says "keep your feet on the ground, when your heads in the clouds", emphasising this journey in hindsight she's making.
"Tell Me How" is the final track and crescendos in pace but in an oddly incepted way from a subdued ethereal opening and i think this conceptual crescendo is through this highly anticipatory and tense undertone that is created by the previous tracks. It is only piano that underlies the vocals for most of the track until the syncopated drum rhythms and guitar riffs slowly layer, and you can differentiate between each layer of instrumentalism which was not as prominent in previous albums of theirs, (in keeping with typical rocky, punky style) and breaks you into it all of a sudden as it builds and each element weaves and tangles around the other the reverb on the vocals adds depth also. It comes to an uncomfortable resolve in some ways yet leaves you feeling a little on edge and reflective, one to listen to several times to find and appreciate the hidden gems and subtleties.
Review by Sadie Fox