by Grace Fields, Knightly News staff editor
After 4 years hiatus since the band’s 2013 self-titled release, Paramore is back with a new look, new album, and new sound. After Laughter, released Friday May 12, includes many ‘80s pop-rock bangers which reflect on what lead singer Hayley Williams has gone through since Paramore’s last album. After Laughter resembles the likes of a soundtrack to a long-lost John Hughes coming-of-age film.
We’re introduced to the opening track “Hard Times” with steel drums that collide with an identical guitar line that seems to form infinite colors. The lead single gives off happy, upbeat vibes with its catchy tempo. Although masked with a joyful instrumental beat, the song is anything but that. “Hard Times” is about Hayley Williams’ depression in 2016 due to personal issues in the band as well as confronting themes of growing up. Willams tells The New York Times in an interview, “You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you real hard.” Personally, this is my favorite song from the album and every time I hear it I can’t help but dance.
“Rose-Colored Boy” is the next track on After Laughter which was also heavily influenced by Hayley Williams’ previous depression. The song begins with Hayley Williams and fellow band member Taylor York chanting, “Low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather,” while a foot-tapping tune plays in the background. Williams and York both comment on producing the song. “We have that moment on my iPhone, where we listened to it for the first time through the monitors after Taylor and I did the chant and we couldn’t believe it,” says Williams. York adds, “I think that was to me one of the coolest moments of writing a record.” Much like the previous track, “Rose-Colored Boy” is a happy tempoed song with a dark meaning behind it. The song is about the lead singer and her husband, Chad Gilbert. As Williams goes through all the depression, Gilbert doesn’t seem to handle it very well. Gilbert attempts to cheer Williams up while she’s sad and mopey, but that patronizing attitude ends up making Williams even angrier. Although not an extreme favorite of mine, I do enjoy this song very much.
“For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come,” sings Williams on the next track “Told You So.” If you’ve gotten this far into the album, you probably have already noticed by now that the songs have a similar music theme: upbeat instrumentals with lyrics that give a glum outlook of things. The song is about struggles faced when the people around you are watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake. The central theme of the song is built around the phrase, “Hate to say I told you so.” This phrase is typically spoken in a condescending, disapproving manner. “Told You So” ranks alongside “Hard Times” as one of my favorite songs on After Laughter. I enjoy its head bopping tunes and meaningful lyrics.
Next on the album, “Forgiveness,” is a slow paced song all about, well, forgiveness and Williams’ struggle to make amends. There isn’t really much for me to say about this song since I myself personally would not listen to this song a lot. I’m not really into songs with a slow tempo unless I’m upset or about to go to sleep. Lyrically, however, the song is genius and work perfectly with Williams’ vocals.
“Fake Happy” is next on the album’s tracklist. It starts off with Hayley Williams slowly singing with the accompaniment of what sounds like an acoustic guitar. After the first few lyrics, the tempo changes to one where you can gently bang your head to. “Fake Happy” shares the same glowing surface vibration as “Hard Times” and “Told You So,” but the song’s chorus tends to take us back to a time where the band step and emerge sounding uncannily like the one that made 2009’s Brand New Eyes. While Paramore has a new sound, they still pay homage to where they started sound wise. “Fake Happy” is a confession of Hayley Williams’ true feelings. The more you listen to the song, we get to see that under Williams’ bright and bubbly personality she is actually very deeply unhappy. The song also serves as a kind of anthem, as our vocalist believes the she isn’t the only person who feels this way: everybody, in one way or another, tends to “fake happy.” Commenting on the song, Williams says, “I hate phoniness. It’s not fun to be around, it’s not fun to do yourself. But then there are these moments in your life where you’re professional and you have to have grace with yourself, you have to have grace with other people and work hard, but it’s that self-preservation thing.” I enjoy songs like these and I like how they go back to their old sound in it.
Up next on After Laughter is “26,” a song about not losing hope and staying a dreamer. “26” is a loose conceptual opposite to Paramore’s hit single “Brick by Boring Brick” from the band’s 2009 album, Brand New Eyes. In the song, Williams criticised dreamers with no grounding in reality. Now at the age of 28, she has gotten older and has become the person she sang about then. Williams comments, “You do have to put yourself in a place of ‘what would you say to your younger self’ or what would you say to someone that was going through the same thing that you are? Because it’s hard to talk to yourself sometimes in a loving way. I sat on my stairs in my house for three hours and just didn’t leave until I finished it. And when I got up, I was like, “I think I did it.”” With this song, I enjoy the instrumentals in the background. It sounds like a violin progressing as the song does and I love songs that have that orchestrational element.
Playing next on the album is the laid back, foot tapping song “Pool.” The song is the lead singer’s dark take on a love song. The central image in “Pool” of diving into a pool uses water as a metaphor for the love she feels in her current relationship. However, there’s always a dark side to love. Love threatens to drown Williams as she is overwhelmed by both the present and future uncertainties in the relationship.
When asked about the song in an interview, Taylor York comments, “I think there’s so many love songs that say, “Hey man, everything’s perfect and beautiful and everything about you is awesome and this is all great.” But Hayley always writes for the people who can’t relate to that. Saying like, “Man, I love this person but I am dark and this feels dark.” I always love that because that is real.”
The melody in “Pool” was one of the first written for After Laughter, started by Taylor York and finished by both him and Zac Farro. While being asked about the development of the song, lead singer Williams says, “I said to [Taylor], “I really wanna write a love song. I want this to be a love song,” when he showed me [the melody to] Pool. […] That was a rough one to write.” I really love the lyrical meaning behind the song and the use of the melody that at the beginning resembles the sound of wind chimes. I would definitely play “Pool” at a pool party or when I’m going on a long leisurely drive.
“Grudges” is next on the album’s tracklist. The song is a shout into the void of nostalgia, with lyrics reminiscing on the events of the past and sending the overall message that you shouldn’t hold grudges over people. In an interview, Williams says, ““Grudges” needed to happen so bad. I wanted to write about Zac, I just knew it. Somehow that didn’t paralyze me, it just happened. I sat up in my bed all day singing to myself. But I just knew I wanted it to be about the band. I knew how good Zac’s voice would sound on it because his voice is brilliant. And I just thought, “Man, I don’t know if he’ll do this, but if he would do this…”” I really enjoy this song lyrically and for what it means. One of my other favorites on the album.
The next song, “Caught In The Middle,” sees Hayley Williams confronted with the concept of getting older. She’s been involved with Paramore since she was only 15 and is now approaching her 30s. With a danceable beat, Paramore shares the harsh feeling of seeing the years piling up. “Caught In The Middle” could also be seen as fighting with depression. Sometimes an act as simple as moving forward in life is a difficult task.
When asked about the development of the track, Taylor York says, “There was a lot of darkness writing this record. I had to get away and so I went to the beach in Florida. I drove seven hours. I was gone for two days and I came back more depressed than when I left. I was like, “Man, I shouldn’t have gone alone.” I just had my guitar and I remember writing that riff. That song was actually the first song we recorded on the record.” I enjoy this song for its beat and clever lyrics that scream the fears of getting older.
“Idle Worship” is the next track on the album. The track was written based on Hayley Williams’ realization that she isn’t the person her fans and people around her make her out to be or think she is. Williams has long been a prominent figure in the pop punk/emo scene due to her unique vocals and charisma. And being a celebrity in that role often lead to people idolizing her. The title is a play on the phrase “idol worship”. By implying an “idle worship”, fans are challenged to not mindlessly accept celebrity culture and worship. I really like the message behind this song and how Williams shares these fears of messing up and letting down those who idolize her but then goes into telling the fans that she isn’t their hero and that she is bound to let them down somehow. This song is yet another favorite of mine.
Next on After Laughter is “No Friend.” “No Friend” starts off from the conclusion of “Idle Worship” as an outro track to the song. This track is also the band’s first song not to feature Hayley Williams as the main vocalist. The song starts with some inaudible spoken word verse from Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou before it soon fades into his trademark poetry about turbulent history of Paramore. Weiss uses lyrics filled with references from Paramore’s discography to tell the history of the band. It continues the main theme of the previous track “Idle Worship”. The track discusses William’s point of view as being seen as an idol by fans and in the pop punk/emo scene. She believes that she shouldn’t be idolised because she’s different to how she is perceived by fans. It also discusses how the relationship between fan-and-musician is completely fabricated. Although not a favorite, I do like what Weiss brings to the table for the band.
“Tell Me How” is the final track on After Laughter. The slow moving, laden track was written by Taylor York & Hayley Williams. “Tell Me How” is a fitting closure for the album and puts everything together perfectly. In a lyrical perspective, “Tell Me How” discusses losing friends, including previous members of the band. Williams finds herself at a crossroads with the choices be live or let die. After Laughter completely ends on the lyric “I can still believe” which shows signs of optimism towards the band’s future despite the seemingly endless troubles Paramore has experienced and survived. Williams, when being interviewed about the song, comments, “I had a lot of feelings about just losing people. When you die does it matter whose fault something was? Everything did feel life or death while we were writing this record. Everything mattered and was significant, every feeling. This one had all these different heavy thoughts strung together.” Though I don’t enjoy slow songs like this one, I actually came to really favor this one as a whole. It’s a beautiful song that ends the album perfectly.
There you have it, a track by track review of Paramore’s fifth studio album After Laughter. This is personally one of my favorite works from the band and I love the new direction they’re headed. I give the album 5 out of 5 stars. If you’d like to listen to the album, you can do it now on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, and Youtube.