Friday, February 24, 2023

Paramore’s Comeback Places as a Necessary, Undefeatable Force on Daring New Album ‘This Is Why’

The sixth album from rock powerhouse legends, and the final album to be released with their long-standing label Fueled By Ramen, is finally here. 

It seems only five minutes ago that punchy lead title track ‘This Is Why’ was released in anticipation of Paramore’s new era.

Since September 2022, the album’s ten-length tracklist was revealed, two new singles were released and cinematic music videos have been unleashed unto those who may be seeking a bit of escapism from the world surrounding them.

On the one hand, fans were ecstatic to take any amount of content after a five-year self-imposed hiatus but were also forced to remind themselves it would be quality not quantity when it came to new music. With only seven unheard tracks leading up to the album’s February 2023 release, there was ambiguous anticipation surrounding ‘This Is Why’ in its entirety. Making up a mere 36 minutes, this is Paramore’s shortest album in over 15 years. Though there needn’t have been any doubt of course as, unsurprisingly, Paramore delivered in all dimensions in this half hour.

Indeed, ‘This Is Why’ is arguably their most heavily loaded work in terms of the themes explored and lyrical content. How could it not be? It’s the result of collective anxiety, societal tension and personal introspection.

Previous singles ‘This Is Why’ and ‘The News’ explicitly set the scene and open the album with explosive commentary on harrowing political conflicts and a reaction to ongoing disasters. They’re not being subtle here: they’re directly tackling agoraphobia “one step beyond your door / it might as well have been a freefall” and inner turmoil “shut your eyes but it won’t go away”. These themes may be an unexpected introduction to this new era, but all it takes is one look at the band’s various social media to know that they’ve always been vocal about voting rights, Black Lives Matter, and most recently, the attack on women’s reproductive rights in the US.

The new album is Paramore at their most coherent and diverse. Never before have Zac Farro (drums), Taylor York (guitar) and Hayley Williams (vocals) gelled together so effortlessly and felt so in sync. Whereas their earlier albums stayed in the same vein throughout, ‘This Is Why’ feels adventurous and cohesive, utilising the best of their specialities; the vocal melodies are explorative and topline the scattered, jagged, driving guitar with ease, whilst the drums are incredibly dynamic but can also take a more impressive, subtly syncopated backseat too. 

Stand-out track, ‘Figure 8’ is self-referential to fan-favourite ‘Pool’ released in 2017, mirroring its arpeggiated introduction and metaphorical lyrics “I’m underwater / no air in my lungs” versus “drained me dry, down to the last drop”. The track then explodes into a guitar-driven frenzy whilst Williams chants “once I get going / I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP / I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP” which is sure to be one hell of an intense moment at live shows

‘Crave’ details a particularly beautiful moment of insightful reflection that acknowledges persevering through your own hardships and eventually coming out the other side, “never gave way to the pain / what if I told ‘em that now that I’m older / there isn’t a moment I’d wanna change”. 

Amongst the heavy moments lie little pockets of sarcasm and even comedic relief. Tracks like ‘C’est Comme Ça’ and ‘Running Out Of Time’ take a lighter approach to the everyday challenges, allowing listeners to ponder on their own ordinary flaws - simple poor time management and the mundanity of healing. 

Track five ‘Big Man, Little Dignity’ does offer a small breather sonically but lyrically relents as Williams confronts the patriarchy for its lack of remorse, hypocrisy and sickening facade of redemption. Here Williams adopts the niche intricacies of her vocals, her dulcet tones floating from a controlled head voice to a raspy raw observation “no offence, but you / you got no integrity”.  

They couldn’t have come back stronger from their hiatus. Taking themselves out of the limelight was much needed, but social media wasn’t so quick to let go. The past couple of years have seen TikTok obsess over ‘All I Wanted’, mainstream artists cite Paramore as an influence on their music (Machine Gun Kelly, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, PinkPantheress), and just to encapsulate this resurgence - a whole festival, “When We Were Young”, dedicated to the early 2000s emo scene.

The magnetic pull back to the scene had Paramore once again at the centre of many conversations. So easily they could have made their comeback with a nostalgic punk-rock record, but instead, they opted for something mature and full-bodied, allowing ‘This Is Why’ to pull on their punk roots whilst still embracing newer influences. It’s probably the reason why fans are calling this a blend of their best work and talents. It’s why Paramore are so well respected by countless others in the great big music industry machine. It’s why they’re one of the few bands from said scene to still be both commercially relevant and independently loved. 

The record is contemplative and appreciative of their careers’ journey - but there’s no desire to go back. Williams has actively called out the then-scene’s raging prejudices, and closing track ‘Thick Skull’ encompasses this completely. Speaking in an interview with Zane Lowe, Paramore explain that ‘Thick Skull’ wasn’t an attempt to replicate their old sound, but an ode to the music that inspired their own two decades ago as teenagers. The long drones and shoegaze moments lay the groundwork for Williams to topline some of the most amplified, skilfully performed vocals of her career as she plays devil's advocate for 3 minutes, giving in to the rumours and critics revolving around her personal and professional life. 

When zooming out of the album, the landscape is - and excuse the reference - crystal clear: it’s powerful, empathetic, mature and effortlessly attuned to the world around us. It’s here to make an impact. Some songs feel like a slap to the face, offering a cathartic release, and some feel like a warm embrace, a comforting invitation to those who might be struggling to find their feet in a post-pandemic, politically-pitiful environment - a.k.a, everyone.

Rachel Feehan

@rachel_feehan @rachiefee

Image: ‘This Is Why’ Official Album Artwork

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