Nearly six years after its 2017 release of “After Laughter,” genre-hopping rock outfit Paramore has returned with a new full-length album titled “This is Why.” Featuring emotional descriptions of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, interpersonal conflict and the band’s own history, the record builds on the sound it forged in its previous album while also paying homage to the early-2000’s pop-punk scene it emerged from.
The album opens with its title track, which features the band putting on a charismatic display. Frontwoman Hayley Williams’ passionate vocals describing the fear of leaving one’s house during the pandemic, anxious percussion sections and a very catchy and sing-along worthy chorus all make for a thrilling opener.
The album as a whole is impressive in its ability to display exciting instrumentation. Song openers’ fresh elements like the C-minor arpeggiated ostinato synthesizer on “Figure 8” or the whimsical, muted guitar on “Running Out Of Time” draw listeners in. Meanwhile, interesting song structures, such as the guitar melody that morphs into a soulful chorus on “Crave,” work to keep audiences engaged.
Longtime fans of Paramore easily recognize the band’s growth through the diverse sounds on the album that stem from earlier projects. Peppier tracks like “You First” and “The News” could have been B-sides from Paramore’s earlier pop-punk albums like “Riot!” while slower, more somber tracks like “Liar” are reminiscent of Williams’ 2020 debut solo album, “Petals for Armor.” Most interesting, however, are tracks like “Running Out Of Time” and “C’est Comme Ça” that showcase the band’s ability to fuse the new wave sensibilities they developed in 2017’s “After Laughter” with spunky, overdriven guitars and syncopated percussion.
In addition to its dynamic song structures, Paramore has done well in making its lyrical content relatable to anyone in its audience who suffered from anxiety, bewilderment or anger during the pandemic. For instance, “The News” discusses the overwhelming amount of negative news that many people consumed on a daily basis throughout the pandemic, leading Williams to shout, “Turn on, turn off the news!” during the song’s chorus.
Another part of the album’s charisma derives from how it offers listeners the ability to see the band through its own eyes. This album serves as an opportunity for Paramore to reflect on its own shortcomings and experiences over the course of the members’ nearly two decades-long careers together. For example, Williams’ lyrics on how she isn’t able to make good on her good intentions in “Running Out Of Time” may as well be directly addressing anyone who feels like they struggle with meeting the demands of daily life in just the 24 hours that they’re given every day.
By contrast, “Thick Skull” comments directly on the controversy and criticism the band and Williams have undergone. A moodier song, this closing track builds infectiously to its impassioned ending, and it was the one I kept coming back to the most.
“I’m absolutely saying, ‘what if all those stories that people would shit on me about, what if all those things were real?’” Williams said in an interview for Apple Music. “I’ve always been so afraid of what people said about me in the context of Paramore … to be indulgent in that and to say, ‘what if?’ was so freeing.”
Paramore being able to create such a solid sixth album is made all the more impressive when considering its somewhat tumultuous history. In 2010, founding lead guitarist and backing vocalist Josh Farro left the band, stating that Williams had acted as though she had been a solo artist, leaving her bandmates out of the spotlight as a result. Criticisms like these are what Williams is referring to in “Thick Skull;” she deftly faces her anxieties by miming the false picture of herself that her detractors paint.
Though Farro’s brother Zac left the band alongside him, he rejoined in 2016, and the band went on to release 2017’s “After Laughter.” Featuring heavy synth pop influences, this record was a marked departure from the band’s earlier pop-punk and pop-rock sounds. Following a divorce, however, Williams entered therapy to treat her depression in 2020, during which time she released solo work.
Nearly three years later, “This is Why” wears Paramore’s past and musical progression on its sleeve. Ultimately, the album’s most satisfying parts lay in its ability to cohesively combine the band’s different sounds and its introspective lyricism. The album’s only real weakness is a lack of consistency; while I don’t think there is a single bad song on the entire album, the bombastic opener and soul-crushing closer were my favorite parts, and as such, some of the parts in between fell a bit flat by comparison. Though tracks like “You First” and “Crave” still have merit, they felt much more generic than the best of what the album had to offer, making them my least favorite tracks on the album. Instead, I recommend listening to “This is Why,” “Running out of Time” and “Thick Skull,” which stood out as the best songs on the album to me.
Paramore does best when it innovates, and luckily for Paramore fans like myself, “This is Why” (mostly) delivers. The band is inviting us to hear its growth for ourselves, and I think we all ought to lend an ear.