Most artists, at some point in their careers, have an epiphany that they need to change and cater to a wider audience, often eliciting angry calls of selling out from die-hard fans. Many groups completely metamorphize from one genre to another, ignoring the grievances of their adorning devotees.
Paramore, it seems, doesn’t have to. The band seems to have fans devoted enough to follow them through a major genre shift — this time from pop-punk to pure pop — regardless of whether or not the attempt is successful. After Laughter is an attempt at something spectacular, but falls short of being a clear-cut success.
Granted, Paramore has already proven that they can produce good pop music, but where their previous discography has primarily been alternative pop-punk, After Laughter, which dropped May 12, is the band’s first full album that can be categorized as exclusively pop.
Album opener “Hard Times” encapsulates that new pop style, with upbeat drums, an ‘80s synth vibe and some tropical beats — which sonically offer a different take on pop music than the common industry fare. It’s important to note the clear display of emotion in its music video — rather than smiling and dancing to the upbeat pop sounds of the track, Williams performs her lyrics physically, sans smiles. The painful difficulties she distresses over in the song come through more clearly with physical representation — difficulties masked by the cheery audio.
But as the album progresses from opener through midpoint, these tropes become mundane and repetitious, despite their ability to cross dimensions of time through their clash of ‘80s glam and modern tempo.
The indistinguishability of the album’s middle songs was exacerbated by the fact that for most of the album, Williams’ powerful vocal range remains unexplored. Fans grew to love the songstress through her overbearing emotion in “The Only Exception” and her captivating anger in “Misery Business,” but neither of those are present there. Instead, her talent as a singer is curtailed and fans are only presented with her lyric writing and piano playing ability.
However, clustered in the final three songs on the album there are several incredibly shocking and pleasing tracks on the album. In “No Friend,” Williams steps down as lead singer — instead, the entire song is performed by guest singer Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou, whose voice is purposefully muffled so that the music is emphasized. It’s a song that perfectly vocalizes Paramore’s struggle as a band, not only to find its sound, but also to work together as a group.
Another surprising standout delves deeper emotionally than the other tracks featured on the album. Closer “Tell Me How” not only allows Williams to display her impressive vocal range but also showcases her emotional writing in cohesion with a slower sound. The pace slows, and Paramore produces good slow-pop music — something that the album would benefit more from.
After Laughter is hard to call a Paramore album because it doesn’t encapsulate any of their previous work — doesn’t feel like an organic extension from it. Their newer pieces don’t balance their old sound with new sonic spaces, but these new spaces are unique and deserve their due credit.
Paramore’s After Laughter opens up the door for new genres of pop, but unfortunately sacrifices its roots in order to do so. Hopefully, with more emotional songwriting to match the new sound and more differentiation and individuality among songs, Paramore’s epiphany to change will prove worthwhile.
Contact Samantha Banchik at [email protected].