For an album by Paramore, After Laughter is severely lacking in many of the trademark features we’ve come to know and love from the band. Their new album manages to feel wildly unlike them, and yet inextricably linked to them.
Paramore is one of my all-time favourite bands, along with Garbage, They Might Be Giants, The Little Stevies and a few others, so I was super excited for a new album. That anticipation only grew when I heard the first single Hard Times, which felt funky, and fresh; different from Paramore’s previous stuff, but awesome.
My anticipation was further exasperated by the fact I didn’t listen to the album initially when it came out on May 12, because I was in the middle of my review of Sumo Cyco’s Opus Mar and I wanted to be able to go in fresh.
That said, despite all my hype, I couldn’t bring myself to buy After Laughter without hearing it in full. And what a shock I got!
As with last album, Paramore’s lineup has changed for this album. This time they have lost Jeremy Davis, but have gained one of the original Farro brother, Zac Farro, leaving the band with Hayley Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro. This turns out to be just another chapter in Paramore’s tumultuous history, of which I wasn’t fully aware until recently.
As much as some would like to put that history out of mind, it has actually formed an important element of Paramore, as it’s given them something to sing about album after album. In fact, I can’t think of another band whose lyrics comment on the state of said band as much as Paramore, and this continues to be true on this latest album.
As with my other album reviews, I’ve listed previous Paramore songs each track reminds me of (with the album they come from), a rank for each track on this album, as well as a comment about each track. Plus there’s an overview of the album as a whole at the bottom.
1. Hard Times
Reminds me of: Turn It Off [Brand New Eyes], Fast In My Car [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 1
Being the first single, Hard Times was the first thing I heard from this album, and what a powerful way to open! It bursts through the door with a tropical energy, thanks to bongo beats and light guitar riffs. The lyrics are a clear comment on the band history, as well as Hayley’s personal struggles, presented in relatable language. The upbeat nature of the tune sharply contrasts with these lyrics, but it’s all about overcoming and getting through the “hard times”, so it feel like a victory dance in musical form.
2. Rose-Colored Boy
Reminds me of: Be Alone [Paramore], Still Into You [Paramore], Looking Up [Brand New Eyes]
Rank on this album: 5
Rose-Colored Boy uses its upbeat, 80’s-inspired sound to tell the story of a relationship between the titular optimist and a pessimistic narrator, who’s struggling with the encouraging influence of the boy. Like the songs that surround it, the lyrics here feel somewhat counter to the boppy, fun feel of the music.
3. Told You So
Reminds me of: Hard Times [After Laughter], Ain’t It Fun [Paramore], Let The Flames Begin [Riot!]
Rank on this album: 3
Told You So has a boppy, light feel, with tropical undertones and lyrics that contrast with the tone of the song, similar to Hard Times. Distortion is also used to interesting effect, to symbolically distort certain lyrics, making it feel surprisingly natural and fitting. An interesting mixture of riffs also appear, playing across guitar, synth, and pitched percussion.
Reminds me of: Grow Up [Paramore], My Heart [All We Know Is Falling]
Rank on this album: 11
Forgiveness is a laid-back tune with a great syncopated rhythm which transforms into a full-on swing during the choruses. The backing guitar riff is very choppy, leaving space for a set of vulnerable vocals, which don’t pack much power, but totally work in the context.
5. Fake Happy
Reminds me of: Interlude: Holiday [Paramore], Fences [Riot!], Tell Me It’s Okay [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 7
Fake Happy opens with an intro thankfully different from the rest of the song. In fact, there’s an edited version on Spotify that does away with it altogether. It’s a drab, slow and depressing lament that sounds like it was recorded underwater. From here, the song pivots into a boppy, soft rock with a slight 80’s vibe, which just continues to open up as it goes. The lyrics comment on the pressure to always act happy and make out that everything is good. My favourite part (possibly on the whole album) would have to be when the choir chimes in with their riff, because it sounds so much like the Bob-Omb tune from Mario 64. I love it; it’s hilarious and I laugh every time I hear it.
Reminds me of: Rose-Colored Boy [After Laughter], Last Hope [Paramore], Misguided Ghosts [Brand New Eyes]
Rank on this album: 12
The most vulnerable-sounding track on this album, 26 is a semi-acoustic song, dominated by restrained vocals and plinking guitar. These are joined by some classic Paramore violins in the latter half, which fill out the sound beautifully with a lullaby-like quality. The lyrics here are more hopeful than most other songs on the album, about overcoming the pessimism of others and yourself.
Reminds me of: Decode [Brand New Eyes], Still Into You [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 6
Apart from a very familiar sounding riff that opens and remains in the background of the song, Poolis a mellow, contemplative-pop style track that heats up slowly. The sound has watery quality to it, which match the song’s title and the lyrics where water is used as a metaphor for the various elements of a dubious relationship.
Reminds me of: Where The Lines Overlap [Brand New Eyes], Part II [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 4
Grudges opens with springy, synthy riff that heavily reminds me of Crying. From here, the song moves back to a light pop-rock flow with an interesting, shifting rhythm. The lyrics are about recovering a friendship and making up for lost time, and opportunities.
9. Caught in the Middle
Reminds me of: Daydreaming [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 8
Caught in the Middle‘s biggest strengths is its catchy bridge, which is a total earworm, and ever-driving beat, which keeps the song moving. Shifting between a sparse but solid 80’s guitar riff in the verses and a funky reggae feel in the choruses makes for a widely varied song that never overstays its welcome, stylistically.
10. Idle Worship
Reminds me of: Fake Happy [After Laughter], That’s What You Get [Riot!], Conspiracy [All We Know Is Falling]
Rank on this album: 2
Idle Worship is the track that finally made me “get” this album. It’s an electronic new age track, with an ethereal vibe. I read this song as a regretful plea from Hayley, to the fans who look to her as a beacon of guidance and “salvation”, to understand her situation. She’s just human, with as many mistakes as any of us, and holding her up as a “superhero” or “saviour” puts an unreasonable amount of pressure on her. The verses can get a bit shouty and breathless, but it feels right in the context. The “la la” refrain sounds phoned in, but again it seems to fit. The chorus is catchy and sort of fun, which helps disguise the true bite of the song.
11. No Friend
Reminds me of: Idle Worship [After Laughter], Future [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 10
Picking up where the last track left off, No Friends is a very unusual sort of track. It mainly consists of drums and a variety of guitars, playing a hypnotically repetitive melody. Underneath, the voice of Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou delivers a poetry-like medley of somewhat surreal lyrics in a Nick Cave-like muttering. It starts off too quiet to decipher, getting louder and clearer as the track progresses. The lyrics again comment on Paramore’s turbulent history and their relationship with their fans, echoing thoughts from Idle Worship, as well as eluding to various previous tracks from Paramore’s body of work.
12. Tell Me How
Reminds me of: Forgiveness [After Laughter], (One Of Those) Crazy Girls [Paramore], Hate To See Your Heart Break [Paramore]
Rank on this album: 9
As the last track of the album, Tell Me How is a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a Nerina Pallot-style contemplative-pop track, which starts out calm, yet emotive with mainly piano, vocals and percussion. As the song goes on, the guitar and drums get louder and rockier, introducing a tropical, marimba-like riff. The lyrics echo many of the themes of Forgiveness.
At first blush, the most obvious thing about After Laughter is that it feels so totally different from Paramore’s previous albums. It’s a much more contemplative and measured collection of thoughts and tunes. With this, it lacks many of the hallmarks that we’ve come to take for granted from Paramore: the roaring vocals, the shredding guitars, the punchy, punky rock. Instead, many of the tracks have an 80’s or tropical Caribbean feel, with some more adventurous drumming and instrumentation thrown in. Overall though, they have swapped the rage and despair of previous albums for a mostly jolly, middling, ho-hum sound that often doesn’t really match the lyrics it accompanies. To my ear, the lyrics are also much more coherent and easy to follow.
As a whole, the album doesn’t flow super-well. Nearly every track is totally stand alone, providing no interaction with its neighbours. That said, thematically, the songs seem to come in pairs: something that could have been highlighted by ordering the songs differently.
Some songwriters write fictional stories in their lyrics. Others like to borrow from the stories of those around them. With Hayley, you really believe that everything she says and sings about is something she has personally experienced, and that’s never been more true than on this album. Each song feels like a letter to a specific person or group, ranging from different (current and/or former) band members, to the band’s critics, to its fans. Each packs a considered and sometimes surprising message that makes the album both easier and harder to fully grasp.
It may take a while (I know it did for me), but if you really focus in on the lyrics of the songs, you’re able to get a sense of Williams’ headspace. From there, you start to understand where this album comes from, as opposed to the surface impression of everything that’s missing or different about it. After I understood that, and the sentiments behind the songs, I also started to like more of the tracks for what they are, rather than despite it.
Once I really started to understand this album, it became hard to review because I felt like I was contributing to the problems covered by the album. I don’t want to misrepresent Paramore or contribute to their anxiety. There are things that I love about Paramore that just aren’t here, but I feel bad to have a crack at them for that. Everyone changes, and we have to accept that. It’s an affront, but Paramore may argue that that’s what their fans need.
Much like Paramore’s last album Paramore, After Laughter feels quite different from everything that’s come before. When I first heard that last album, I didn’t like it much. However, despite that initial take, Paramore eventually became probably my favourite of Paramore’s albums, because of its mixture of emotion and fury. And with time, I think that will be true, to some extent, of this album too. I doubt it will ever be my favourite, but I can say I’ve already begun to like it.
RATING: 7.5/10 – ★★★★★★★✬☆☆
But you don’t have to take my word for it…Listen to the album for yourself, and make up your own mind. Then you can let me know what you think of Paramore’s After Laughter.
So, are you a fan of Paramore? What’s your favourite songs of theirs? Did you pre-order After Laughter? What do you think? Did it live up to your expectations? Have I said anything you disagree with? Tell me & everyone else who passes through here what you think in the comment below.
To Infinity and Beyond,