As a fan of their work, you can imagine my disappointment when Zac and Josh Farro left the band after a post-Brand New Eyes tour. From a musical standpoint, the big concern was how Paramore was going to change once Hayley and the Farros could each produce their own visions for what direction music should go.
While the Farros' new band, Novel American, has yet to produce actual content (although the demos of instrumental work from Zac and Josh are their traditional awesomeness), Hayley, Taylor York and Jeremy Davis have sent out a single, "Monster," and now an entire album.
The self-titling of the album was a nice call. Much like bands that date back to the Beatles' self-titled "White" album, doing a self-titled work after one's debut is meant to reflect a mark of identity and unity with the band, and this is one of those that actually succeeds.
The cover is of the three band members standing (the first Paramore album to show the members) like they've just done the Color Run, as they are covered in paint. I have to give the band its due as well for having Hayley on the far right looking away instead of in the center, considering the Farros claimed a Hayley-centric focus in the band was what made them leave. (BUT I can only go so far because when you take the CD out, there's a solo shot of Hayley's back underneath it with the words "Grow Up" painted on her jacket. So the message is lost a little.)
The first song to play is "Fast in My Car," and it's a solid song that shows the evolutions in style the band has made. FIMC has emotional lyrics like the band's old works, but the style of guitar and use of echo makes gives the song a European feel. For some reason, I found myself thinking of the Swedish band, Caesars, when I was listening. Nonetheless, it's a solid opener.
Next up is "Now," the first single released from the album. I told my brother when it came out, "It's a solid song, but if this is their best song on the album, it'll be pretty weak." I stand by that comment, but thankfully, this isn't the strongest song on the album.
It's certainly good, and it fits even better in the album, but I like plenty of songs better here. Much like "Monster," I felt like the band really struggled with the lack of a permanent drummer and the percussion just felt weak.
Also, I'll say this now: Much like how people joke about what will happen to Adele and Taylor Swift's songs when they're in happy, fulfilling relationships and can't write about heartbreak anymore, I'm really interested in what will happen next Paramore album when airing out old dirty laundry is no longer the main source of lyrical inspiration.
"Grow Up" is the third song and it just isn't one I enjoy. The lyrics felt like they just wanted to hammer their points home and the actual beat of the song suffered for it.
Tracks 4, 6, 8 and 16 ("Daydreaming," "Ain't It Fun," "Last Hope" and "Be Alone") are four of the best tracks on the album, as they really capture the old Paramore style and spirit. AIF and LH also incorporated a choir-like backing set that both helped enhance the songs and stuck it to the Farros' 'holier than Hayley' mentality.
But yeah, all four are welcome additions to anyone that really liked the emo-punk style Paramore incorporated in their earlier works. It's a sign that the band may not break from the style that made them as much as some feared.
Tracks 5, 11 and 15 are Interludes - short, acoustic songs that barely break the 1-minute mark. All three of these are awesome and in fact, being too good is probably my biggest critique. I want full-length versions of these acoustic pieces!
"Part II" is not one of my favorite songs. I'm not sure what style they went for here, but it wasn't very memorable. The best thing about the song is the lyrics, which throw some nice callbacks to the Riot! song "Let the Flames Begin." It's worth a listen, but you won't be playing it often after the first time.
It's now that I should really mention: Unlike Paramore's older albums, which kept all but "Brick By Boring Brick" between 3-4 minutes flat, this album has no problem having songs run into the 5-minute range or cutting off barely past the two-minute mark. It gives the album a nice flow, although listening to songs out of order is really off-putting.
"Proof" and "(One of Those) Crazy Girls" are both solid outings that kind of get overshadowed by the rest of the album. They'll be welcome hidden jewels in your iPod. "Hate to See Your Heart Break" is a ballad style that made me immediately think of Colbie Caillat. It's a very relaxing song that probably exceeds "The Only Exception" as Paramore's best ballad-style song.
Lastly, there is "Future." It sucks. Plain and simple. Not often I complain about a Paramore song, but there were no real lyrics in it, it sounded like random warm-up sequences the band did while making the album, and much like Tool songs, which I'm sure inspired this, it Just. Wouldn't. Die. Not exactly the best way to close out the album, and I would have preferred an acoustic version of one of the singles instead.
Overall thoughts: So what can I say? Is this the best Paramore album ever made? No, but I didn't expect it to be. Riot! is just about perfect as an album and I don't expect a new band alignment to surpass it on the first try. What it is, though, is quite possibly the second-best Paramore album ever made. Yeah, last track aside, no song is unlistenable; most tracks are solid to very good; and when these three hit the mark they REALLY hit the mark.
I'd say buy the album, as there's plenty there in a 17-track album to make it worth the $12 price of admission. I look forward to seeing more from this incarnation of Paramore in the years to come.
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