Anybody growing up as an awkward teenager in the mid-late 2000’s will remember with fond nostalgia the music of Paramore and the way they tapped into a MySpace culture of emotional angst at just the right time. Lead singer Hayley Williams’ dramatically razor-sharp bangs (with appropriately violent bursts of red, pink and orange) jumping around in front of her band mates (who for the most part just seemed like they were in it for the ride). Fast paced, mind numbingly catchy emo-rock-pop, albeit without the shrill whininess one often associates with the genre. Thinking about how much of a different time this was really does make one feel old.
Of course as fans of Paramore have grown up, so have Paramore themselves and as a result what you hear from their latest singles ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Told You So’ is a band that are unforgiving in their own reinvention and now finally seem adamant in their resistance of being held back by the confines of their previously restrictive genre dogmas. There are actually a number of reasons for this, because despite Paramore being able to survive over ten years and blaze through 2016 unscathed, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been some pretty major casualties along the way.
With the rising popularity of the band, so did rise the tension between its members and as a result it has been hard to keep track of the various line-up changes this band has undergone. After three years without releasing any music and the sudden departure of former bassist Jeremy Davis, the future of Paramore was a mystery to everybody. Things started looking better in February this year when it was announced that founding drummer Zac Farro was returning, with the band even releasing t-shirts celebrating the reunion. With all the changes in members, it’s now clearer than ever just how crucial Hayley Williams is to Paramore and how without her the brand would cease to exist no matter how many other members remain.
‘Hard Times’ is a single that is sure to create divide amongst some long-time fans, but even more sure to bring in hoards of new ones with both its feet now held firmly and unapologetically deep in the world of pop. However this isn’t just any pop, as ‘Hard Times’ is a direct nod to the 80’s and more than likely a result of the band’s adoration of acts like Cyndi Lauper, Blondie and Talking Heads. Releasing 80’s throwback songs is nothing new- with the likes of Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen also dipping their toes in these waters, yet only a few acts (The 1975, Daft Punk and M83 for example) have treaded into this territory with the level of success achieved by ‘Hard Times’.
The upbeat nature of the song- complete with bongos, marimbas and funky guitars- is starkly contrasted by dark introspective lyrics like, ‘All I want is to wake up fine’ and ‘All I want is a hole in the ground’ which adds a sinister edge to the positivity of the song and reminds long term fans that this is still the same band that wrote hits like ‘Misery Business’ and ‘Ignorance’. If it wasn’t for the lyrical depth found here, this whole song and it’s concept would appear disingenuous- but it doesn’t.
The chorus really does make this song. It’s up there with some of the best melodies of the 80’s and the simple guitar riff repeated in the verses sounds like the sort of thing that would be played on a tropical island not a Paramore song, but in this context works very well and is perhaps their most danceable riff to date. One aspect of the song that does get grating is the way Hayley enunciates the line ‘And I gotta get to rock bottom’ in a very squawky way that sounds out of place and weird (for the sake of weird) by not flowing well at all with the chorus. One of the best assets of ‘Hard Times’ is the outro refrain that could of come straight out of any Daft Punk song, with the visuals in the music video exploding with psychedelic colour and imagery.
Told You So
Much like ‘Hard Times’, Paramore’s second single ‘Told You So’ is unashamedly pop and while it doesn’t quite have the powerhouse chorus of its predecessor, there’s no denying the quality of the music. Again, the lyrics are dark and introspective, hinting at fractured and combative relationship: “I know you like/When I admit that I was wrong and you were right.” In this case however, despite the overall feel of the music being positive (the marimbas are back after all) you can sense the uneasiness and tension, particularly in the eerie synth effects and the refrain at the end where Hayley repeats the lyrics ‘Throw me into the fire/Throw me and pull me out again’. The funky guitars are back again in this track, as is the 80’s vibe (albeit slightly less apparent in this one) with guitarist-come-producer Taylor York playing some of his most tasty licks to date throughout the chorus’s and towards the end of the song.
Considering the history of Paramore and the kind of band they were then as opposed to now, it really is interesting to see where their new album After Laughter takes them and if they really have truly left behind their rock and roll past. It also makes you wonder what other bands might learn from this if Paramore’s album achieves as much success as many suspect it will. It may also be a tragic reminder that with all the changes in the industry nowadays, how many other rock bands with dollar signs in their eyes will jump on the pop bandwagon? And how long before they’re all gone?