By Jon Winkler
In the music industry, “sell-out” is a very strong, negative word. To a band that has remained within a certain musical landscape, doing anything outside of the norm would seem sacrilegious. It was interesting to see how easy it was for Paramore front woman Hayley Williams to sing the hook for B.o.B’s 2010 hit “Airplanes.” Then again, Paramore has been playing with pop for a little while now. Their biggest hits vary from a high school revenge story in the form of boyfriend stealing, a torrid love affair meant to mirror that of a girl and a vampire and a ballad about love in uncertainty. Yes, Paramore has been quietly sneaking in pop tunes alongside their punk power hits, but they have stayed with their Warped Tour brethren for the most part.
In 2010, when guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro, two of Paramore’s founding members, left the band after Josh claimed the band was becoming “a manufactured product of a major label,” the future of Paramore was put into jeopardy. Josh and Williams were the band’s principle songwriters (not to mention, a former couple) that penned sharp lyrics of paranoia and angst. If Farro implied that Paramore (specifically Williams, who was signed to Atlantic as a solo artist) was the pop and he was the punk, where could Paramore go without him?
Well, considering the band’s energy and spirit, the band had nowhere to go but up. Upping their musicianship, their themes and, as evidence on their rousing 4th album, their age.
Make no mistake; “Paramore” is as bouncy and arena ready as Taylor Swift’s (a friend of Williams’) most recent effort, “Red.” It is one of the most fun records you’ll hear this year. Some credit should be given to producer Justin Meldal-Johnson, the man who’s played bass and produced the for Beck, Nine Inch Nails, M83 and Neon Trees. He gives Paramore the tools to be louder and more energetic than they ever have before.
On the first track, “Fast In My Car,” bassist Jeremy Davis is omnipresent, growling with distortion and bouncing along with guitarist Taylor York — a theme also featured on “Ain’t It Fun” and the too-short “Anklebiters.” Synths and electronics are present in the background to add a more contemporary feel to the record.
But the fix is on Williams, who may be finally embracing her role as a rock sex symbol. She plays with her voice, adding more attitude and kick to her already powerful pipes. The lead single, “Now,” has her trying to keep with York’s winding riffs and, in her own words, “Waking from the dead/And everyone’s been waiting on me.” She skips and jumps through “Ain’t It Fun,” chanting “Don’t go cryin to your mama/Cause you’re on your own in the real world,” with a gospel choir joining in towards the end of the song.
This album has major summer soundtrack potential, especially for teen girls who are Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen fans. Case in point: the track “Still Into You,” a bouncy, pop tune where Williams sings about still loving the same interest, whether that is a boyfriend or her band. For those of you at Hot Topic panicking at this album so far, ease up because there are still classic Paramore tunes like “Be Alone,” “Part II” and “Proof.”
In one of the three ukulele-backed interludes, “Holiday,” Williams sings: “Now I can move on to facing/Big girl problems/No more high school drama/Graduated with honors.” Ironically, that drama is what holds back the album. “Paramore” slows down after track 10 in the 17-track album. The 3 interludes are acceptable between songs, but they aren’t really necessary. “Last Hope” sounds like a throwaway ballad from the band Fun. “Hate To See Your Heart Break” is an acoustic ballad in the vein of “The Only Exception,” their acoustic ballad from 2009’s “Brand New Eyes.” “Future,” the last track on the album, is seven minutes of scratchy guitars and a winding bass and drum piece that fades out and back in halfway through. You can’t help but wait for something to kick the album back up, but it never happens.
Growing up is the theme of “Paramore,” the title of a song on the album. But does growing up mean the same thing as selling out? Of course not, because emo-punks who grow up can sound fully realized (Blink-182’s 2003 self-titled milestone) or make a bigger statement than adolescent angst (Green Day’s 2004 political masterpiece “American Idiot”). And even if you don’t have anything else to say or show, going big ensures that you don’t have to go home (Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, Sum 41, and Yellowcard are prime examples). Granted, those bands didn’t have the staying power of others, but what makes Paramore last is their striking energy and will to go on. Their twisting of words and delivery on classic hits like “Misery Business” and, on this record, “(One Of Those) Crazy Girls,” “Grow Up,” “Fast In My Car” and “Ain’t It Fun,” makes Paramore stand out in a crowd of angsty twenty-somethings eating Top Ramen in a van — they are the heroes of high school skater boys and girls.
This album is the springboard the band needed to leave their comfort zone and accept that they’re in the world of pop. Sometimes selling out means breaking out and taking off and it won’t be long until Paramore headline Madison Square Garden. Now, if only someone could pass that message off to Fall Out Boy…
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
Essential Tracks: Fast In My Car, Grow Up, Ain’t It Fun, Anklebiters