Album Review: Paramore - 'After Laughter'

14 May 2017 | 4:19 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

No laughter, no light, no joy; just pain.

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This review is not for mere contrarian sake; I genuinely loathe 'After Laughter' and I think it's one of the most, if not THE most boring albums I have ever heard.

Paramore's latest "effort" made me want to pull the ear drums out from my the recesses of my skull. Nothing and I mean NOTHING, fucking happens during this 12-track slog. There's just little sonic variation outside of their current "quirky" 80's new wave-pop flavour; there's none of the gripping, driving energy that their previous records displayed so well, and there's very little in the way of interesting dynamics to these dozen songs. Well, no, that's not entirely true. There are variations in dynamics and tone in some moments. However, that's only when Paramore churns out a lazy piano or acoustic ballad for a quick second before returning to the same old poppy, neon-reggae bullshit that they and their yes-man team decided was a good idea to release in the guise of their fifth album.

As one can gather from hearing recent singles 'Hard Times' and 'Told You So', album number five indeed contains a bright 80's new wave style, with a massive reggae influence riding over this rather low-key record. Now, these influences would have been great if they were sprinkled throughout 'After Laughter' to help spruce things up, but no that's not the case. The case here is that this now Jeremy Davis-less trio wrote one song and then just repeated it bar the mid-album acoustic track of '26'. '26', by the way, is just a shoe-in track that could never hope to hit the intimate and touching levels that 'Misguided Ghosts' or even 'In the Mourning' once reached.

Much like the sonic jump from career standout 'Brand New Eyes' to their poppier, half-killer/half-filler self-titled record, Paramore have progressed even further into the pop realm. Pop music is fine, yes, but the band have gone down the universal treacherous rabbit hole of using the same old formula - in this case, using the same drum patterns, same bass lines, and same guitar tones, and the same lack of enthusiasm throughout - which adds this album's biggest issue; it all sounds the fucking same. No, I don't mean in an overly generalised genre way, but rather in an "it all is more or less the exact same" kind of way. Even the ballads, like album closer 'Tell Me How', are just the remaining songs minus the rhythm sections, yet they merely carry the same unaffecting timbres, grooves, and vocals nonetheless. This record is just unrelenting in its lack of interesting ideas that it made my body physically ache.

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'After Laughter' is a consistent album, yes, but it's a consistently lacklustre and dull one at that!

[caption id="attachment_1091637" align="alignnone" width="760"]Paramore Paramore, in full Wiggles mode.[/caption]

Now, one of the very few things that I enjoyed here is the drumming, which is quite good. There's plenty of great grooves coming out of founding member and returning drummer Zac Farro, with smooth rock and pop beats surging from his always tight kit playing. It's just a shame that it's the same fucking drumming on every song. And not just every song, almost every single section is eerily similar too. Going into a chorus? Same off-beat drumming with an accompanying staccato pattern! Falling into the middle eighth of a song? We'll just add a few tom drum rolls or just stop playing all together, cause that'll work - not! The drumming, much like the record's remaining instrumental elements, just gets so very old, so very quickly. I see the merit here and yes, it is good drumming performance wise, yet from a songwriting perspective, there needs to be a real change at certain intervals. Definitely not all the time; that runs the risk of creating a record that is spread far-too-thinly. But displaying various, strong sonic shifts here and there would have been lovely and that would have likely improved this record greatly. However, simply changing the BPM of the drumming hasn't at all helped.

Song wise, there is one big exception here for me - a song I actually somewhat enjoyed - and that's the tenth track, 'Idle Worship'. This song feels more like a B-side from their self-titled record and could've very well stemmed from a scrapped bridge or verse from the utter jam that was and still is 'Anklebiters'. Now, 'Idle Worship' doesn't have a huge poppy chorus nor a sing-a-long inducing bridge, but what it does have is a structure that moves between each part in a very natural way. The song progresses at the pace it feels it should, and it doesn't feel like the band just copy and pasted a chorus in between two verses like the other songs on offer. It changes and adapts itself in an organic way and that's all that was needed for most this record, which the band missed, sadly.

Yet what is so equally funny and cruel here is that the one "standout" - 'Idle Worship' - is then followed up by a three-minute instrumental track that is literally, and I'm no even shitting you, the same four bars over and over. Now, yes, there are some very subtle changes throughout the song but if you aren't too busy crying from the sheer boredom it induces, you'll miss those "changes" completely. What's worse is that this song's drum beat and melody are both so damn similar to that of 'Idle Worship', so much so that I legit thought this track was just a weird outro bit tacked onto the end, as it has a male voice whispering some inaudible poetic shit beneath the rest of the mix. But no! It turns out it's a proper song; a legit track, and it's called 'No Friends'. And after the opinions divulged in my review, I won't be surprised if that soon becomes my own situation. I later came to find out that my ears were not deceiving me and that the song is built around an inversion of the 'Idle Worship' riff and has mewithoutYou's own Aaron Weiss delivering those "deep" vocals. So maybe it gets points for that and some artistic expression but after ten songs already feeling like the same damn song, an eleventh one just wasn't going to sit right.

I will now mention 'Fake Happy', as this song does negate a fair few of my criticisms. It varies itself greatly and has a lot of dynamic to it with its shift from an ambient, minimalist intro into - and here's the problem - the exact same shit I was talking about before; funky, reggae rhythms with new wave textures over the top. That first chorus has a lot of kick to it... until after a sheer disaster of a verse and second chorus do you then realise that was only because this song went from a zero to ten in terms of intensity and you were just surprised by that. Because that's so much more than you could say for the other songs. I mean, this is the one-trick pony that The Amity Affliction relies on to an insane degree; right before a chorus, you make everything rest or settle dynamically so that the next section feels massive once it hits when in reality, it's really not.

If you're reading this thinking that I sound angry, that's because I am. I'm angry because for nine or so years I've loved this band, as I remember the fond days when my older brother/fellow KYS writer/editor, Alex, ordered a CD copy of 'Riot!' back in 2008 and we'd blast it in the car on road trips. I remember songs like the soft and soothing 'When It Rains' and the moody yet soaring 'Let The Flames Begin' being the soundtrack to my endless hours of playing through the Elder Scrolls games. I remember making my fingers bleed as I tried to perfect 'Proof' and the fill found in 'Hello Cold World' (one of Paramore's greatest songs by the by) on bass for hours on end in my bedroom. And I remember tearing up the first time I heard 'Where the Lines Overlap'. There was actual heart present in those songs. There was this insatiable feeling of drive and passion in every note, whether it was a ballad, a punkish banger, or a stadium rock anthem. Yet this new album feels like mere propaganda in that it's dressed in all these vibrant colours and timbres yet underneath that bright paint job is a cold, grey and dull reality.

I fully agree with those who plead for Paramore to go back to their prior sound(s), and the reason I agree is because that was where and when the band was actually good. See, change is only good if the change you make is good. If you change into something terrible then, no, that change is not instantly good; it's fucking terrible. And I hear you all in the back row screaming, "but bands should experiment!" Yes! Yes, they should! I could not agree more. But do it behind closed doors. Experiment in the studio first. Workshop new ideas and different concepts by demoing with your producers and your label and whatnot. But do not take (flawed) experimentation such as this as far as dropping a whole new album with full label promotion and such behind it because you're just wasting my time and your own.

If I wanted to hear your experimentations I'd illegally download a bunch of subpar demos off Sophie's Floorboard.

[caption id="attachment_1092520" align="alignnone" width="760"]Paramore-2017-NYTimes Paramore, sans Wiggles mode.[/caption]

Look, I'm not trying to act like some damn paragon of musical tastes either - I myself love some of the most grotesquely poppy music out at this moment. But you know what that pop music has? It has some fucking meat on its bones, it doesn't aspire to be anything else, and by that, I mean that whatever that pop song wants to achieve, it will go balls deep to achieve its end goal. For at least those kinds of songs aren't as half-assed and as half-hearted as 'After Laughter' is. This isn't pop music done right as so many would lead you to believe right now.

If Paramore released this album as their debut they would have been fucking laughed at. But they didn't; they've released it now after two decent albums and two fantastic records (I shouldn't have to tell you which ones are which). As such, this band is adored so heavily nowadays that a majority of their fans will love it and lap it up without a second fucking thought - all simply because it's "new Paramore, you guys. I am so shook!". Christ. See this album only "works" in the context of their whole career yet the moment you step back from that, the moment you stop trying to justify a four-year wait, is the moment you will hopefully realise that 'After Laughter' is completely unfulfilling. But very few will do that and I'll probably be more or less cyber-bullied for this review. (Ah, the Reddit flashbacks are kicking in now). And you won't find me or my apparent thoughtcrimes on the Paramore subreddit, what with anyone who isn't calling this sub par thing a "masterpiece" being downvoted into deletion. In fact, I actually take back what I said about wanting Hayley Williams and co. to go return to their older musical approach. That's a rather naive thing to say. So, what I will say is this: I wish they would approach new songs like they used to; with actual love, considered care and some goddamn inspiration!

What 'After Laughter' accumulates too is a boring album that lacks any real dynamic as well as any sense of flow. It's basically a one-note album from it's very beginning to its eventual end. It hits the same level and stays there for the entire duration, but that isn't a good thing in this case. Even 'Fake Happy', which actually has the most change in its structure, falls flatter than day old beer as the band deliver their music with no meaning nor any enthusiasm. There's just... nothing here. This whole record feels soulless and devoid of any passion whatsoever; whether it's in the mix, the arrangement, the structuring, the pacing, the songwriting - everything!

And no, no amount of colourful, "artsy" music videos, shit cover artwork, and unimpressively sad lyrics matched with bland upbeat, happy, major-key music will change that fact.

If you love this record then hey, more power to you. In fact, I truly envy you. I fuckin' wish I could like this record. I wish I could feel something here other than utter boredom and sheer annoyance. I wish I would be able to not have to study setlists before their next Australian tour to ensure that going will be even worth my damn time. Because I don't get pleasure out of disliking music and art, and my prior days of being "edgy" like that are over (despite what some people may think). So for whatever it's worth, don't feel hurt or even offended by what I've said here in this review because much like my own time with 'After Laughter', that will bring you no joy either. I mean, hell, I'm already outnumbered with the crushing volume of acclaim this woeful album has received, so I'll let you all have your fun.

Oh, and if you hate the new Linkin Park record because they're poppy "sellouts" or if you loathe The Chainsmokers because they "write the same song" over and over yet you love 'After Laughter', then please, please consult a hearing doctor and take your shameful, nostalgic bias the fuck out of my face.

This album sounds like a "Jimmy Fallon covers X song with school instruments" video.

This album sounds like you just bought your first chorus pedal and have to use it on everything otherwise it becomes a money pit.

This album sounds like you've finally discovered another style of drumming and decided that you'd just get stuck in that rut for a change.

This album sounds like being out of touch with what's popular.

This album sounds like Hilary Clinton trying to be relatable.

This album sounds like easy money.

This album sounds like an excuse to tour and make even more easy money.

This album doesn't sound like shit; it is shit.

1. Hard Times

2. Rose Colored Boy

3. Told You So

4. Forgiveness

5. Fake Happy

6. 26

7. Pool

8. Grudges

9. Caught In The Middle

10. Idle Worship

11. No Friend

12. Tell Me How

'After Laughter' is out now. You can buy it here but I'd strongly advise against it. Here, listen to something better, like 2009's 'Brand New Eyes'. Also, if you couldn't tell by my conclusion, I am indeed a fan of old mate Anthony Fantano.