Paramore, as a band and as individuals, might be on that divide between late adolescence and adulthood. This incarnation of the band has the success of a few good albums behind them but also has to deal with two of its founding members splitting off. It’s the era when you do things like move away, lose friends, get a real job, and all that fun. With the release of its self-titled album, Paramore has captured both maturity and youthful vitality to create its best record yet.
Paramore is both the band’s most polished and messiest album, which somehow pays off. If it’s grown-up and professional sounding (“commercial”, if that wouldn’t come off as a slight against a band always connected to Atlantic but not considered a major label act), it takes that tack in service of the songs, and does so in balancing out an explosive shot of styles and attitudes. We get touches of New Wave, pop-punk, funk, alt-rock, pop, balladry, and even a series of ukelele interludes. If the album wasn’t so essentially Paramore (doing their new thing), it would feel restless and disorganized; instead, it feels too kinetic to be circumscribed.
That sort of commotion benefits from a youthful approach. Punkish opener “Fast in My Car” announces the band’s desire to just kick back and have fun. It would be a bit of misdirection (and mistake) if you were to read it as a statement for the album, but these songs are bright and sound optimistic even when they aren’t. The album’s deepest breath, “Hate to See Your Heart Break”, goes through pain and resolves the problem with a touch of naivete: “For all the things that you’re alive to feel / Just let the pain remind you hearts can heal.” If Hayley Williams’s vocals weren’t so convincing, I’d be convinced I was getting too old for this stuff.
As young as the album feels at times, it doesn’t feel puerile. The songwriting’s smart enough to be reflective without becoming heavy or brooding. “Ain’t It Fun” bursts childhood ideas about the pleasures of growing up, but the song, despite itself, is fun, especially when the gospel choir kicks in with “Don’t go crying to your mama”, lightening the tone of the song, offering a release from what a meditation that could have weighed itself down in its own irony. [A sidenote: some awards should pair the band with Robert Randolph for this one.]
The band’s confidence comes out in the ukelele interludes, which should fall flat, but offer new takes into what’s going on throughout Paramore. If there’s a burst of styles and motion, there’s also an ever-tightening sound and a willingness to sit down and think. The tracks add some fragility to the pound of the rest of the album, enabling a fuller vision to cohere.
“Now”, wisely released as a single, provides the most emblematic track on the album. It’s a smartly written, addictively hooky song that relies on muscle as much as on pop. The chorus sounds like a kids’ anthem — “If there’s a future, we want it!” — and the repeated “There’s a time and a place to die, and this ain’t it!” howls out like a teenage battle cry. The desire stems not from bright-eyed hope, though, but from a defiant wisdom, born of the experience of failure. Combining the two aspects in this borderland adds extra potency for the song. It would be even more remarkable if Paramore didn’t apply that sort of creativity across the entire album.