US band defy all odds with an upbeat and poppy, synth driven album which carries a much darker meaning.
It’s been four years since the Hayley Williams fronted rock band Paramore released their critically acclaimed and most commercially successful self-titled fourth album, which won them a Grammy Award in 2015 for Best Rock Track with Ain’t It Fun. Since their formation in Tennessee in 2004, Paramore have grown to be one of the world’s most revered bands. Their initial roots as a pop punk band gained them huge praise, connecting with many in the emerging emo-rock and punk rock scene. Since then, the group has seen huge changes in personal, with a variety of members coming and going, as well as seeing changes musically. Williams is the only member of the band who has stayed throughout the history. Paramore shifted away from the slowly fading pop punk scene in 2013, to the commercially growing pop rock crowd. After Laughter is an insight into some of what has happened over the last four years. It’s also the bands first record since the departure of bassist Jeremy Davis and the return of drummer Zac Farro.
Hayley Williams is one of the most loved front women in music, but the rollercoaster ride that is Paramore has taken its toll on the singer, who stated before the release of the new record how she’d suffered from extensive depression since the last album. Williams’ battle to overcome and tackle her depression is a core theme within After Laughter. Opening track and first single Hard Times highlights the record’s main theme within its opening lines. Lyrics “All that I want is to wake up fine / To tell me that I’m alright, that I ain’t gonna die” signal the extent of her depression in 2016, caused by personal issues within the band alongside the trouble of growing up. Whilst setting up the album’s direction lyrically, Hard Times showcases a new, poppier direction musically. The jingling Nile Rogers styled riff is surprisingly infectious and playful in its bouncing, youthful state. Rose-Coloured Boy details how Williams’ depression caused her relationship with her husband to decline as he struggled to understand the illness that Williams had. It’s a full on electro pop track with a riff similar to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Lyrics “Just let me cry a little bit longer / I ain’t gon’ smile if I don’t want to” highlight the singers need to be alone, pushing away any help or attempts to improve her mood whilst line “I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me” show just how low Williams felt.
The emotive, acoustic guitar led 26 is a highlight on the record, allowing a pause from the synth pop of the majority of the album. Flowing with emotion, the singer battles her mental state, showing that you can’t lose hope and can always remain a dreamer. Lyrics “And they say that dreaming is free / But I wouldn’t care what it cost me” retain a sense of optimism, expressing a desire to stand up tall again, no matter what the cost. The beautiful string arrangement adds another dimension to the song, making the final outcome a stunningly orchestrated piece of music.
On Fake Happy, a lo-fi intro gets pushed aside by poppy synths which then carry the song across an upbeat wave of guitars and drums. It’s a deeply personal track for Williams in which lines “Oh please, don’t ask me how I’ve been / Don’t make me play pretend” show that all is not right internally, despite her bright and bubbly personality on the outside. The rising rock track infuses modern synths perfectly and throws fans back to the early days of the band. Lyrics “I love making you believe / What you get is what you see” hint at society’s addiction to social media and its ability to twist the perceptions and reality of how people feel. Altogether it serves as an important message to everyone, given the current crisis surrounding mental health’s stigma, and the underfunding and unawareness from major organisations around the world.
Since 2013, there have been doubts as to whether the band were ever going to make another record, which were fuelled by Williams’ depression and her uncertainty of living life in the spotlight. The battle of fame can be clearly seen in Idle Worship which challenges the mindless acceptation of celebrity culture and worship. With a hurried, almost breathless vocal delivery, lyrics “Don’t hold your breath, I never said I’d save you honey” touches on Williams’ realisation that she isn’t who her fans think she is. This realisation is apparent as well in line “If I was you, I’d run from me or rip me open”, a line which highlights the stark contrast in the singer’s own personal opinion of herself compared to her fans opinions of her. The bands time in the limelight hasn’t always been an easy one. Track Told You So is a documentation of how various people waited for the band to crumble and latched onto any weakness given off by the group. The track has a hidden message within it, one that shows that despite all that has happened, the band are back and getting stronger. Caught in the Middle shows the conflict within the mind of Williams with lines such as “Can’t look back / can’t look too far ahead” showing how fear of the future as well as having to look back at past events causes anxiety and self destruction.
Closing track Tell Me How starts as a sombre piano ballad which develops with intricate guitar. Battling the topic of lost friends, Hayley’s vocals rise with emotive intensity with lyrics “I’m getting sick of the beginning” highlighting the fact that Paramore have had a different band line up for each of their five studio albums. “Do I suffocate or let go?” entwines the confusing mess of loss and yearning – they can suffocate under the weight of holding onto everything or let go and forget the memories that they shared. The track is a wonderful closer to the album but is also a specifically important message from Williams to former bassist Jeremy Davis, who sued the band after his departure in 2015, having been with band since the beginning. Lyrics “Of all the weapons you fight with / Your silence is the most violent” show that Williams still hurts and despite everything, misses him.
Tell Me How touches on the fractured relationship between Paramore members past and present and this theme of band relationship and reconnecting lost ties is common throughout the album. Forgiveness in its slightly stripped back style is a relaxing, enjoyable track but one that highlights the forgiveness and redemption that’s taken place amongst the members of Paramore. “There’s still a thread that runs from your body to mine” shows that despite all that has happened, the group are inseparable whilst key lyric “Forgiving is not forgetting” hints that perhaps the band might never be able to fully get over what happened in the past. Zac Farro’s drumming shines on the track which with its gentle and bouncing guitar line make it subtly different to the rest of the record.
Farro’s drumming is also clearly apparent in Grudges, which has a slight reggae feel within the verses and contains nostalgic lyrics about how Zac and Hayley could try and restart their friendship after the drummer left the band in 2010. “Could it be that I’ve changed? Or did you?” signals maturity between the pair whilst line “‘Cause we can’t keep holding on to grudges” points out that it’s time to move on for the band and try and forget what happened in the past. No Friend is the most experimental track on the record, with a looping psychedelic riff adding a breath of fresh air onto the album. Hidden, almost spoken vocals from mewithoutYou’s Adam Weiss whirl around in atmospheric style on a song which uses references of past Paramore lyrics to narrate a story about the band and their history. It’s a unique track from the band and lyrics “In any case please let me know if there’s more I can give you / If nothing comes of it, then just know we are grateful” underline the possibility of a permanent split for Paramore but also highlight the gratefulness that they have for the journey that they’ve been on.
Throughout the duration of After Laughter, you can’t help but marvel at how Paramore have managed to release this record. The glorious punk rock tracks from the start of their career might have been swept away but the current groove heavy, synth friendly pop is a welcome surprise. What stands out the most on the record however is the quality of lyricism and the ability to portray such experiences and emotions in an effective way, whilst still developing on their new pop rock direction. It’s an accomplished album for the band that leaves us wondering what could be still to come.