Paramore – This Is Why

As someone who was essentially ushered into the rituals of hyperactive music fandom at age 11 when I heard 2007’s Riot!, it’s mindboggling to think about how Paramore is now 18 years removed from their debut project. With a couple solo albums from frontwoman Hayley Williams in the interim, This Is Why comes a full six years after they switched up their formula with the pop-heavy and widely celebrated After Laughter – and it’s also the first time ever that the band have made two consecutive albums with the same lineup. With that being said, This Is Why couldn’t be more different from the trio’s last outing together. If the legendary pop-punk band dropped the “punk” last time, this time they’ve elected to drop the “pop.” While many music aficionados have been appreciating the manic energy, the return of Williams’ typically cynical lyrics, and an increased helping of instrumental complexity, this longtime fan of the band’s accentuation of that cynicism with strikingly beautiful, endlessly replayable melodies got a little bogged down by the discordance and general shoutiness on display here. It’s growing on me with repeated listens, but it might be a shock to the system.

When it comes to that discordance, oddly enough, the lead singles are some of the worst culprits. Kicking off the project with the back-to-back of title track “This Is Why” and “The News,” tracks like these make me feel like this is the first Paramore album that could have been made by just about any of the rock bands out there that are similar enough in their ambitions that online thinkpieces continue to tout the genre’s demise. Luckily, more classic Paramore essence does show up in glimpses even on these tracks – like the eerie tones in the double-time section of “This Is Why” just before the chorus drops, or the impressive rhythmic complexity and Williams’ longing delivery on its bridge – and in full later on in the album’s runtime. Still, the track’s chorus might be the most off-key she’s ever sounded, and the forceful guitar stabs on seemingly random notes in the background don’t help matters much. It’s meant to express the visceral rage the band has at what the world has become, but even so, something about Williams taking pride in shutting herself off from the world and not “leaving the house” rubs me the wrong way. Williams has spoken a lot about being inspired by bands like Bloc Party on this project, and you can really tell on “The News,” which immediately drops listeners into a breakneck tempo with prog rock-style riffs and wild drum patterns. It’s a main reason, however, that the heavy instrumentation and shouted vocal style of the chorus ultimately feels unearned, without much of a build-up.

“Running Out Of Time,” on the other hand, prepares us for the explosion of the chorus in a much more effective way. The contemplative guitar riff in the verses draw listeners into a kind of calming space, which really complements Williams’ vivid lyrics about anxiety and executive dysfunction. The heavier chorus seems to represent the stress of not completing even the most basic of tasks finally overflowing, the panic bubbling underneath what might appear to be the calm demeanour of someone scrolling endlessly through their phone. Toning it back down – but not all the way – and combining the two energies in the second verse is also a great touch. Another example of back-to-back tracks that go for something similar with wildly different results is the juxtaposition of “C’est Comme Ça” and “Big Man, Little Dignity.” While the former possesses a truly obnoxious chorus, as Williams applies as much sneer and playground-taunt energy to her na-na-na-nas as possible, she comes across as rather unlikeable through her spoken-word passages about the world in a state of disrepair, self-sabotage and only thriving on spite and revenge. At the very least, it’s not the kind of outlook I’d want to listen to over and over. The latter track, however, taps back into the classic Paramore trope of when Williams actually uses her spite for good. The song finds her spitting venom at men who use their privilege for the worst, using some trademark bluntness to reveal the monster beneath the carefully curated image of the suited businessman and the disappointment that nobody else seems to see it – or care, if they do. Along with the first melodies on the project that are memorable and catchy enough to stick in my brain, this is the show don’t tell of Paramore’s new mission statement.

If you’re a slightly disgruntled old fan like me, “You First” will likely be the most appealing track to you. It feels most like a marriage of their many facets of a band, essentially morphing through aspects of all three of their styles to great effect. It kicks off with some experimental and proggy tempos during the verses, the pre-chorus gives off that crisp and clean rhythmic songwriting that coloured After Laughter (as well as some great jazzy note choices), and the chorus clicks right back to classic pop-punk Paramore with some soaring vocals from Williams and the kind of excellent melody that they’ve always been known for. The following track “Figure 8” doesn’t fare as well: for all of the celebration about the instrumental complexity on this project, this one feels the most like complexity for complexity’s sake – there’s a lot going on instrumentally, and it doesn’t really come together. Williams’ chants of “I don’t know how to stop” are rather unpleasant on the ears, as well.

The track “Liar” is easily the album’s most beautiful, and the subject matter will be even more touching if you’ve been following the band for a long time. Williams has had her fair share of tumultuous relationships, and the track serves as a love letter of sorts to her new partner, longtime bandmate Taylor York. She apologizes for “lying” to him, avoiding her true feelings when he knew the truth all along. Her wistful falsetto evokes the kind of starry-eyed devotion that made songs like “The Only Exception” so powerful, while the double entendre of “fighting chemicals and dodging arrows” that evokes both wartime and romance is quite brilliant. The track “Crave” is a song about nostalgia that, effectively, sounds a lot like some of their old work again. I appreciate hearing Williams’ vocals at their best, but it still feels a little like they’re trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, like their chasing of other bands’ sounds – especially with how much it resembles one of their best tracks, “Playing God.” The final track “Thick Skull” is a cathartic release surrounding many of the themes discussed thus far, with some of the album’s most poetic lyrics delivered in an unpleasant way. With hints of shoegaze, Williams ends up with some impressively powerful belts that flirt with crossing the line into the uncomfortable screaming territory. Again, the big moments don’t feel particularly earned – though I can see why some would argue that they are in the context of the full album.

This Is Why actually represents the end of a deal with a specific quotient of albums that the now 34-year-old Williams signed when she was a teenager, so it will be interesting to see if the band will start releasing at a more rapid pace in the future – and if so, if they’ll continue to experiment with their sound. At this point, with one of the greatest singers in the world at their disposal, I’d love to just hear more of that voice, no matter what they decide.

Favourite Tracks: You First, Liar, Big Man Little Dignity, Running Out Of Time

Least Favourite Track: C’est Comme Ça

Score: 6/10


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