Paramore’s Latest Album Is An Anxious Murmur
2:45 PM EST on February 15, 2023
Since the release of Paramore's debut album in 2005, All We Know Is Falling, the band has gone through a lineup change for every single record, through 2017's After Laughter, and never for particularly benign reasons. There have been intra-band breakups, lawsuits, and accusations of creative tyranny. Paramore has survived through all of that. This is the steadiest period in Paramore's turbulent history, but you wouldn't know it from listening to This Is Why.
That's because Paramore is always changing, even when the members are not. This Is Why is the first to keep the same lineup from the previous release, a lineup that includes perennial mainstay vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro (who had previously left the band in 2010 before returning for After Laughter). The band's sound has shifted throughout the years: from emo to pop punk to alternative to power pop and, finally, to the synth pop of After Laughter. Rather than continue with what works, Paramore is always on the look for a new sound, but the radical departure of its sixth album is unprecedented. On This Is Why, the band tries out post-punk. The result is an anxiety-riddled release that loses some of what's signature to Paramore.
It's possible that without the pandemic, the band would have released a new album much sooner; the six-year gap between records is the longest in the band's history. This Is Why would be different, too; after all, the titular song, released as the lead single back in September, is all about not going out into a world that is barely recognizable from what came before. "This/is why/I don't leave the house/You say the coast is clear/but you won't catch me out," sings Williams in front of jittery guitars and marching drums.
There's a rawness to the sound here that hasn't been present since the 2009 album Brand New Eyes. If Paramore didn't have a lengthy history as a band, you would be excused for thinking that This Is Why feels like a Bloc Party album with a new singer. Specifically, Paramore is taking influence from the British band's 2005 release Silent Alarm. To a particular brand of teenager at the time, that album was perfection: riddled with anxieties over the state of the post-9/11 world, sung through with beautiful melodies and singer Kele Okereke's soothing voice and rousing yells, in equal parts.
I was that particular brand of teenager, as was Williams. The driving guitars present in most of This Is Why aren't quite as rugged as those on "Helicopter," but they recall both "Banquet" and "The Pioneers," two other mega-hits that spawned from Silent Alarm. Lyrically, the touch on current events is similar to "Hunting For Witches," Bloc Party's Bush-era media howl from 2007's A Weekend in the City, which can be grouped in with Silent Alarm as the first era of that band's sound.
But This Is Why isn't simply Bloc Party pastiche, even if the band decided to take the Brits along on tour this year to promote the album. What has always made Paramore stand out from the many bands of that era is Williams, specifically her voice. This Is Why borrows from her 2020 solo album Petals for Armor, in both her cadence and her thematic concerns. The titular track is a fuller-band version of home anthem "Cinnamon" from her record, and while there isn't anything as dance-y as "Sugar On The Rim" on This Is Why, it does have a similar kinetic energy, particularly in the back half. For Williams the songwriter, apprehension with the state of the world results in rapid-fire introspection mixed with outward explosions of energy.
Williams the singer, however, is let down by both her own lyrics—she has been the primary songwriter for Paramore throughout their career, though all of the songs on This Is Why are credited to the trio as a whole—and the debatable choice to sideline her vocal talents. Previous albums gave her plenty of room to show off her voice, but the newest release backgrounds her range in favor of talk-singing verses on "C’est Comme Ça," or the similarly monotone bridge on "The News."
It's a curious choice that those two songs, along with "This Is Why," were picked as the lead singles. They are among the weakest songs on the record, because they commit the cardinal sin of a Current Events Song: They're shallow lyrically and don't have Williams's powerful voice to compensate. The bridge on "The News" recalls a song by the Canadian band Braids, whose song "Snow Angel" deployed a similar gimmick for an extended introspection on the world we live in, whatever that means. Musicians have sung about us-against-them conflicts for as long as music has existed, so Paramore isn't treading new ground here by asking people to "turn off the news."
When shifting from the lyrics to the musical compositions on This Is Why, though, Paramore's true purpose on this album becomes clearest, and that comes from Taylor York. The band has never put together better songs-as-songs than it does here, even when the vocals and lyrics falter: "The News" might be a blunt instrument lyrically, but it's all jagged edges and spikes sonically. If Paramore has been seen as Williams's band for so many years, York is using This Is Why to stake his own claim as the band's best creative force.
The album is at its most consistent when York takes the spotlight. The disorienting opening riff on "You First" gives away to an honest-to-goodness belt of a chorus, before coming back for subsequent verses. The looping introduction to "Figure 8," which gets out of the way of chunkier guitar chords around the chorus while still laying the groundwork for a song about repeating past mistakes, is similarly well constructed. Album closer "Thick Skull" is more akin to Williams's solo offshoot Flowers for Vases / Descansos, a collection of slower-paced and insular tracks that didn't fit on Petals for Armor, than anything the band has recorded before, and it's carried by soft guitar work from York, who's always felt like the secret weapon of Paramore.
It's on the album's penultimate song that Paramore truly finds a way to meld its past to its future. The second half of This Is Why is stronger than the first, and "Crave" is among the very best songs Paramore has ever made, in any incarnation. The trio is in full force here: York uses guitars reminiscent of indie shoegazers Real Estate, conjuring a woozy soundscape upon which Williams weaves a story of yearning and, finally, lets her voice pop in the chorus. Farro's drumming is great throughout the record, so it's not surprising that he hits the song with a much-desired vigor as Williams begins her chorus vocal runs. The song feels like the logical evolution of both the softer parts of After Laughter and the regret of Petals for Armor, shot through with Williams's best vocals on the album:
The rest of the album doesn't quite reach those heights. This Is Why is an experiment, and this band has earned the right to do that after so much drama in its earlier years. It's always going to be hard to make something timeless that feels so grounded in the specific moment of its creation. But it's frustrating to see that they still have the ability to make a fireball like "Crave," only to surround it with a misunderstanding of what makes most of their songs just as good. Oftentimes a band has a lot to say, but on This Is Why, Paramore seems to only have one way to say it.