Paramore’s fifth album, After Laughter, is shimmering with a new outlook, while the lyricism is doubting, honest, and counteracts the instrumentation with poise. From the first single and album opener, “Hard Times,” we’re shown this dissonance with a brightly constructed music video setup complete with a confused and stumbling Hayley Williams (vocals). Seeming to have just woken up in a daze of confusion, we see the empty smiles and robotic movement accompanied by Williams’ ability to keep singing although she can’t figure out how she got to where she is. This colorful introduction into Paramore’s new direction shows us that they can continue to evolve their sound, with clean production from Taylor York (guitar/vocals), while never losing sight of what Paramore is.
This leads us into “Rose-Colored Boy,” easily an early fan-favorite. This transports us deeper into the nostalgic-driven 80’s vibe with lyrics such as, ‘Low-key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather,’ which is sure to be happily sung back live. The combatting mindsets play out like a conversation as Williams’ touches on her loss of optimism in today’s world and how she wishes she could be “Rose-Colored” too. “Told You So” continues to touch on several realizations of becoming a realist, or even pessimist at points. ‘For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come.’ The vocals weave through the music each inviting its counterpart back into the spotlight.
Bringing the mood down a bit, after the highly energetic first quarter, comes “Forgiveness.” This heartsick ode to relationships a bit too broken to mend simmers into “Fake Happy,” an honest inflection that begs the question, ‘Are we all just pretending to be happy?’ Whether it’s being on a stage and the pressure of having all eyes on you, or in more simple situations, “Fake Happy” is a ballad that we all can relate to at some point in our lives. Sounding almost out of a Disney film, “26” clings onto the last bit of optimism Williams’ can grasp in this reality. Begging, ‘Wasn’t I the one who said to keep your feet on the ground?’ and, ‘They say that dreaming is free, I wouldn’t care what it’d cost me.’
Coming back down from the clouds, “Pool” lifts us up just enough to stay above the surface. The wavering of movement in this bubbly track extends the feeling of being in a swaying current of emotion. “Grudges” is the perfect welcome back for Zac Farro’s (drums/percussion/vocals) return to Paramore. ‘I can tell that we’ve changed, and we’re better this way.’ Through all the ups and downs of Paramore’s journey thus far, you learn to pick your battles. After all, ‘We can’t keep holding onto grudges.’ Constant motion seems to be the symbol of success. “Caught In The Middle” unmasks this harsh reality with lines such as ‘Gotta keep going or they’ll call me a quitter,’ and, ‘Nostalgia’s cool, but it won’t help me now.’ Most noteworthy, however, are the repeating lines hitting harder each time, ‘I don’t need no help, I can sabotage me by myself.’
The underlying theme of After Laughter with the strain of a withering hope, counterfeit happiness, and an undeserved and unwanted placement on a pedestal is highlighted more directly in “Idle Worship.” Williams’ lets her voice waiver finding its strength in vulnerability. ‘We all need heroes, don’t we? But rest-assured there’s not a single person here who’s worthy.’ “Idle Worship”’s much darker counterpart, “No Friend,” performed entirely by mewithoutYou frontman Aaron Weiss, presses into the same concerns in a much more direct approach. This track’s importance shouldn’t be overlooked by its lack of syrupy-sweet design the groundwork After Laughter is cloaked in. It may be one of the most important narratives if we just listen. ‘I’m no savior of yours, and you’re no friend of mine.’
Closing out this emotional whirlwind in low-spirited, but hopeful “Tell Me How,” Williams’ asks, ‘Let me know, do I suffocate or let go?” At some point we all have to move on, After Laughter has already become an anthem within its short week of public existence through longtime label, Fueled By Ramen. Paramore have culminated yet another perfect album with their vulnerability proudly on their sleeves.