“Throw me into the fire / Throw me in, pull me out again”
With that repeated refrain during the bridge of “Told You So”, Hayley Williams sums up her experience in one of the most successful rock bands of the past decade. In case the bright lights and even brighter hair colors fooled you, being a part of Paramore is no walk in the park.
The cover art of Paramore’s 2005 debut album, All We Know is Falling, depicted the (first) painful departure of bassist Jeremy Davis and reckoned with broken trust. In the decade plus that followed, amidst a meteoric rise from Warped Tour side stages to amphitheaters and top 40 radio, loss, drama and pain has plagued the band, and their music has done little to spare us the details.
Even the Grammy-award winning “Ain’t it Fun” from 2013’s self-titled album was seething with resentment while draped in “Cruel Summer” sonic attire. The band’s evolution from pop punk to pop has been a gradual one, but Williams’ open-book policy regarding inner-band strife has been ever-present.
Thus, the simmering gloom that pervades Paramore’s fifth full-length album is no surprise, given another falling out, but neither is the band’s new 80s synthpop sound. Still, After Laughter may be the band’s greatest success, which should tell you a lot about how much better they are than just about any band to come from this scene.
After Laughter is heavily inspired by [insert your favorite 80s new wave band here] and follows in the recent footsteps of [insert your favorite indie synthpop band here]. But just as Paramore rode pop punk coattails to grand success with an album like the platinum-selling Riot!, Williams’ authenticity, candidness and ability to enrapture with her delivery make Paramore so much more interesting than whatever else you’re listening to.
If the band’s first single, “Hard Times”, didn’t grab you, just wait three minutes until “Rose Colored Boy” breaks through with Zac Farro’s drum machine, Taylor York’s effect pedal-heavy guitar, and Williams’ chant of “Low key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather”. A tortured look into the necessity of depression in the face of pain becomes a soon-to-be summer anthem.
After Laughter is filled to the brim with tongue-in-cheek saccharine hooks and bubbling synthesizers while it digs deeper and deeper at old wounds. “Forgiveness” tackles the inability to forget: “And I don’t pick up when you call / Cause your voice is a gun, every word a bullet hole”. “Pool” ditches Williams’ past attempts at love ballads by dwelling on the dark: “But why get used to something new? / Cause no one breaks my heart like you”. Even the calm, acoustic “26” questions Williams’ past notions of hope in the face of adversity: “Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died”.
Yet for all of the aforementioned doom and gloom, perhaps the darkest theme explored on After Laughter is Paramore’s most self-referential yet. For a band that has watched their fan base balloon over the past decade, Williams is quick to dismiss her role as role model. Instead, she uses songs like “Idle Worship” to reveal her own lack of direction: “If I was you, I’d run from me or rip me open / You’ll see you’re not the only one who’s hopeless”.
“No Friend” employs mewithoutYou frontman Aaron Weiss to deliver another cruel message on behalf of the band, shouting, “I’m no savior of yours, and you’re no friend of mine”. It’s the harshest truth for any young fan to accept about their hero, and it’s what sets Paramore so far beyond their peers.
No matter the circumstances, Williams always left a door or window open for something new and better to appear, even if the light began to fade as the years passed. Songs like “Part II” and “Last Hope” on the self-titled album felt like flickering candles in the wind, gripping tightly to a final source of hope. You’ll be hard pressed to find any such notion on After Laughter, and I think we’re better for it.
As someone who suffers with chronic depression, I know what it’s like to fake a smile or conjure up a confident remark just to give peace and assurance to those around me. After Laughter is a reminder that sometimes those of us who struggle need to sit in our pain for however long it takes, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
As a fan of Paramore, I’m enthralled by the honesty and ironic delivery of what may be the best album of the band’s career. As a human, I can only hope that their next album, if we’re lucky enough to get one, finds Williams in a better place. But believe me, I get it. No rush, no pressure.
“Really all I’ve got is just to stay pissed off, if it’s alright by you”
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.