For as much as I generally prefer complex, artistic work on the whole, I have a great appreciation for music that is an emotional echo that resonated. Brash, fun songs that still deliver their own integrity and thoughtful pop-laced plotting often find their way into the repeated shuffling lists on iTunes. Case example: why yes, I do own (and enjoy) the first two Avril Lavigne albums — the second moreso than the first. “Losing Grip” makes for satisfying “Screw the world!” sing-alongs, while “Slipped Away” will forever remind me of the ache of losing my own grandfather.
Paramore is another act that won me over with its pop-punk riffs and alternately snarky and earnest reflections on relationships won and lost and the satisfying revenge on that catty twit we all knew in school. Both times I took in their live show were filled with high octane stage antics and the ability to whip a crowd into a ready-made chorus. One need only spin their live album, The Final Riot, to appreciate that.
That title ended up prophetic, as the brothers Farro departed after the release of Brand New Eyes. Publicly lashing out at frontwoman Hayley Williams for everything from insulting their Christianity to megalomania, Williams remained fairly quiet and mature in her response. Clever PR handling, I wager. A shame, then, that Paramore — yeah, they self-titled the fourth full-length studio album that recently dropped — comes off as an often juvenile and spiteful album, where influences give way to mimicry.
Bands have a tendency to self-title albums beyond their debut release as a means of re-establishing or re-jigging their brand, contrary to any protests of wanting to “focus attention on the music”. If anything, they want you to pay less attention to the music and more to the brand. It’s marketing sleight-of-hand: “ignore the music composed to be more commercial/less like before”. Sometimes, it heralds a positive change — Collective Soul’s sophomore album; Metallica’s notorious “black album” — but often, it signals the demise of what made fans loyal in the first place (Finger Eleven; Evanescence). For Paramore, it’s a silent “fuck you” to band members now departed, an erasure of them as part of what established Paramore as a chart-topping powerhouse.
The not-so-silent flipped fingers begin immediately in album opener “Fast In My Car”, a catchy, enjoyable track despite its pre-chorus lament of “Hollowed out and filled up with hate/All we want is you to give us a break“. There’s a balance in the lyrics however that saves the song from becoming a “woe is me” pity tune and leaves the listener with more of an anthem for moving on. First single “Now” initially didn’t wow me, but it’s grown over time to be casually enjoyable — the kind of song one spins for fun — although the “Don’t try to take this from me” breakdown reeks of No Doubt to the point of distraction.
And then it begins, with “Grow Up”, a track that digs at old friends and those complaining as they live in their memories. I could rule this understandable, given Williams’ personal approach to her material in past, except that this album is the first to feature interludes that honestly are throwaway bits that add nothing to the proceedings. Our first interlude is “Moving On”, which features ascerbic lyrics like “Let ’em spill their guts/’Cause one day they’re gonna slip on ’em.” Wow. Methinks the lady doth protest too much when she continues, “Well I could be angry, but you’re not worth the fight/And besides I’m moving on.”
Sure you are, Hayley.
This is the crux of what pulls down Paramore as an album: if it’s not repeating the same themes over and over like a sledgehammer or being catty, it’s recycling the work of other bands or even Paramore itself (the simpleton-named “Part II”) to the point of inducing irritation. For the first time in their discography, I encountered songs where I kept checking my iPod, wondering how many more seconds I needed to endure its more derivative moments. It’s like a teenager’s overdramatic novella about her angsty crisis, self-published without any notion of structure or any desire for an editor. When it’s good, it’s quite promising; when it’s terrible, you want to inflict permanent writer’s block as punishment. Take “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls”, which might as well be the new theme song for a true crime series about stalkers. It’s not cutesy or romantic; it’s psychotic and as a victim of stalking of the nature Williams describes, it’s not fucking funny. Album closer “Future” is such a “wah-wah-waaaaaah!” of a clunker for an album closer, it’s akin to the author that gets bored with her story and quickly ends it because she blew her wad in the first few chapters. Kinda like Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay.
Like Lavigne’s ironically named The Best Damn Thing, this album clearly aimed for bratty and “fun” and instead comes off as immature and lacking the sincerity of previous work. It’s a shame, since there are several tracks that are actually pretty solid without all of the clutter and crap dragging them into the mud. “Ain’t It Fun” brings a refreshing use of gospel choir to the mix (even if I feel like that, too, is a subconscious stick in the Farro ribs), and while “Still Into You” and “Last Hope” aren’t the best songs in their catalogue, alongside the lead two tracks, they’d make a nice EP. Bonus track “Escape Route” would have been far more welcome than the drivel interludes on the main album.
While I certainly believe Williams and the remaining members still standing after the dust-up have talent, it remains to be seen whether they can move forward as they constantly speak of on this album and return to making quality tracks consistently, or whether the Farro brothers were the glue that held the songwriting together. If this album is meant to serve as the compass for future endeavours, it’s a forgettable transition to a career’s end as the more trend-following fans move on to the next big thing on the pop-punk scene.
Highlights: “Fast In My Car”; “Ain’t It Fun”
Lowlights: all three “Interlude” tracks; “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls”; “Future”
Final Grade: B-
You can check out Paramore for yourself at their official site.