On May 12, Paramore released their fifth studio album, “After Laughter.” I reviewed the first single, “Hard Times,” on April 21, which you can check out here. Like the single, the album went above and beyond my already-high expectations.
Their second single, “Told You So,” was further confirmation that I was going to love this album. The song, accompanied by an artsy music video, is reminiscent of the same new wave rock that came through on “Hard Times.”
In my previous post, I discussed how Paramore has successfully transitioned from the angsty rock they started with to a more upbeat alternative-pop sound. “After Laughter” showcases this perfectly, taking on musical styles 1980s — though if you think this album is merely fun, 80s-inspired pop music, you’re mistaken.
It is undeniable that most of the tracks sound cheerful, but if you look closer at the lyrics, you can feel that they are still an emo band at heart. The 12 tracks cover themes of depression (“Hard Times,” “Fake Happy”), growing up (“26,” “Caught In The Middle”), heartbreak (“Forgiveness”, “Pool”) and fame (“Idle Worship,” “No Friend”).
Despite the catchy beats and melodies, it is clear from the start that this will not be a lighthearted, experimental album. I had an idea that this album would explore themes like this, but when the album went up on Spotify around 11 p.m. on May 11, I was not expecting to be as blown away as I was — and that was just after the first listen.
I have since listened to this album several times through, each time finding more that I like. It is impressive at first simply because of how cohesive and strong it is, both lyrically and sound-wise. The second time around, you pick up on the exhilarating juxtaposition between the upbeat sound and the often-depressing lyrics, realizing that this album is so much more than it appears to be.
The album opens up with three of these subtly deep songs (“Hard Times,” “Rose-Colored Boy,” “Told You So”), so it isn’t until the fourth song, “Forgiveness,” that the underlying sadness truly is revealed. The song, while still sounding optimistic, packs the first emotional punch.
This is followed by “Fake Happy,” which returns to the faux-happy vibes of the first three songs. After listening to “Forgiveness,” however, the mood has shifted to the more real themes that were conveyed at the beginning — and this goes on for the rest of the album.
“26,” an emotionally-charged track about reality and survival after hardships, has without fail made me cry every time I hear it. It is more stripped back than much of what Paramore has done before, and it is the standout track for me on this album. It it beautifully written and sung, and the message about holding onto your dreams hits hard. If you only listen to one song from this album, it should be this one.
The pacing picks back up with “Pool,” a song about being in a relationship filled with ups-and-downs. It is not as upbeat as the others, but it is ultimately one of the more positive songs on the album.
“Grudges” leads into the more heavy topics: the downfalls of fame, feeling stuck in time and letting go of the past, the latter of which this song is focused on. As with Paramore’s eponymous album from 2013, this song is a way of communicating a desire to move on from the past. This could be taken as a personal challenge, or it could be a reference to all of the drama that has surrounded the band’s lineup over the years.
The next song, “Caught In The Middle,” carries on themes of being afraid of growing up. The song begins with the line, “I can’t think of getting old, it only makes me want to die,” which contrasts greatly with the otherwise peppy music. This song can be summed up by another line from the song: “can’t look back, can’t look too far ahead.”
This idea of dealing with a public image and body of work is expanded on in the next two tracks, “Idle Worship” and “No Friend.” The first is about how celebrities are put on pedestals despite the fact that they are “not your superhuman.” The latter is more specific to the band, filled with references to the past that most fans would pick up on.
MewithoutYou’s frontman Aaron Weiss takes over Hayley Williams’ vocals on this track with his signature style: spoken word. The sudden change of tempo is jarring, forcing listeners to pay attention to what he is saying about the uncomfortable relationship between fans and artists.
The album closes with “Tell Me How,” a piano ballad about unclear feelings. “Tell me how I feel about you now,” is repeated throughout the song, ending an otherwise upbeat, albeit depressing, album on a mellow, reflective note. “I can still believe” is the last line of the song, which is a stark contrast from the album’s opening line, “All that I want is to wake up fine.”
I would not necessarily say that “After Laughter” comes full circle because it is clear that these themes cannot be resolved in 42 minutes, but it does a phenomenal job of exploring topics that most pop artists don’t dare to.
Not that Paramore is a pop band — behind all of the pop melodies and tempos is that same band we all fell in love with. Their sound may have changed over the last couple of years, but the heart of Paramore remains, and that is more clear than ever with “After Laughter.”