If you ever listened to Paramore in the late aughts, you probably had a good idea what of they’re all about. While the band did experiment with newer, more pop-heavy sounds with 2013’s self-titled effort, the band has always been known for no-nonsense pop punk smashes, punctuated by lead singer Hayley Williams’ sassy-yet-impressive vocals. This time around the band have once again turned a new leaf musically, opting to take what they tinkered with on Paramore and run with it on After Laughter, an ’80s-inspired dance party with surprising darkness lying beneath the surface.
The most immediate difference between this album and previous Paramore projects is of course the sound. While the aforementioned Paramore did toy with new wave sounds, After Laughter makes it apparent from the get-go that the band have moved on from their power-riffing past. Synth-pop, dance-rock and even afrobeat are all present on this record. However, what hasn’t changed is the band’s – dare I say it – emo-ish lyrics regarding the relationships, self-doubt and constant drama that orbits around the band wherever it goes.
While songs like “Caught in the Middle,” “Hard Times” and “Rose-Colored Boy” are bubbly and warm on the surface, the lyrics tell a different story. “On “Caught in the Middle,” Williams sings about depression and the anxiety of getting older over jangly ska guitar licks. “I can’t think of getting old/It only makes me wanna die,” she opens. Lead single “Hard Times” also deals with these topics, with a chorus that would sound right at home on the band’s older, angsty compositions.
Not all the songs are like this though. “26” is an acoustic ballad that has Williams addressing her younger self, telling her to “hold onto hope” and keep dreaming. The song is most likely a response to one of their earlier songs, 2009’s “Brick By Boring Brick,” where Williams scoffs at those who refuse to accept reality. It’s a curious choice to have the song sandwiched in the middle of the album, but a decent song nonetheless.
While the first half is filled with pop bangers, the most interesting songs are found near the end. “Idle Worship” has Williams addressing mega fans who mindlessly praise her when she doesn’t deserve it. “Oh, no, I ain’t your hero/You’re wasting all your faith on me,” she says on the bridge. “Think it’s safe to say your savior doesn’t look a thing like me.”
The song flows seamlessly into “No Friend,” where Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou (ironically Williams and guitarist Taylor York’s favorite band) uses past Paramore songs and lyrics to tell the story of the band throughout the years. While Weiss’ voice is low in the mix – enough to where you can hardly hear him – the only time you can clearly hear him is when he screams “I’m no savior of yours and you’re no friend of mine!” It was clearly an intentional move, as it drives home the point of the previous song perfectly.
After Laughter is a triumph because not only is it a great pop record, but it showcases the band’s musical talents without overstepping their boundaries. It’s a natural progression from their last album and is lyrically the best thing they’ve put out. Paramore somehow make catharsis a dance party, and it’s a hell of a good time.
After Laughter is out now on Fueled By Ramen Records.