Paramore are back with a vengeance, but with a bit more self-awareness. The Tennessee-based band announces that right off the bat on their fifth studio album with opener (and single) “Hard Times,” a synth-heavy acknowledgement that the now three-piece led, as ever, by Hayley Williams has been through a lot. And it’s something that the 28-year-old singer even states herself on “Rose-Colored Boy” (“I want you to stop insisting that I’m not a lost cause/’Cause I’ve been through a lot/Really all I’ve got is just to stay pissed off/If it’s all right by you”). But with After Laughter, she and her bandmates prove that they aren’t going down without a fight.
With the band’s 2013 self-titled album, Williams and co. hinted at a more polished, pop ethos (sans grit) that set us up for this bubbly new LP. The result: an undeniably hooky record that strays from its grunge-rock roots and finds the band in a place where they’ve found the fun in their craft once again.
While the band has been no stranger to drama (with the Farro brothers departure seven years ago and a lawsuit from former bassist Jeremy Davis for royalties), After Laughter reunites Williams and guitarist Taylor York, who has stuck with the band through thick and thin, with drummer Zac Farro. And with this reunion of sorts (which seems to be addressed in between the yelps on “Grudges”), fans will see what adult-emo looks like. For Paramore, they’ve found it in ‘80s new wave pop, while still managing to keep the aesthetic fans came to know and love 13 years ago, thanks primarily to Williams’ sharp, candy-coated lilt. Taking cues from feminist icons like Blondie and Cyndi Lauper and today’s pop phenoms like Grimes and Sky Ferreira, she makes it clear she’ll be doing things her way from now on, like, for example, pointing out more than once that she’s through being asked to smile.
Even if the lyrics still have a tinge of darkness, Williams still tries to look on the bright side. Her aspirational outlook shines throughout even on glimmering balladry when she’s struggling (“26,” “Pool”). And while the melodies do sound sincere, Williams’ attitude still lingers on as she nonchalantly uses the word “honey” on “Idle Worship”: a reference to her once-bitter outlook on “Misery Business” back when the band first made it big.
Once immersed in the pop-heavy album that is After Laughter, it becomes clear that the less angsty outlook of Paramore is something only surface-level. If you look beneath, it shows Williams battling with herself to make amends (“Forgiveness,” “Caught In The Middle”) and put on a front to the public (“Fake Happy”). The Williams everyone loves is still there, but she’s become a little bit better at letting go. She’s not dwelling, so why should we? It’s time we matured with Paramore.