They attempted to work through their internal problems during the recording of 2009′s Brand New Eyes — a moody collection of tracks that sanded down the youthful, wide-eyed naïveté of Riot for a more mature sound influenced by alternative rock — but lead guitarist/songwriter Josh Farro and his brother, drummer Zac, ultimately left the band unceremoniously the following year. The brothers Farro made sure to confirm any speculations about band tension with a lacerating, Bible-quoting blog post that lambasted Williams’ control over the band and her focus on becoming a record company-approved product, and they likened their lessened roles to “hired guns.”
And while tentative moves have been made to reconcile, after listening to the revamped lineup (now with Taylor York on rhythm guitar and Jeremy Davis on bass) on Paramore, it’s safe to say Williams still has some scores to settle.
The self-titled album (out today, ) is unquestionably the group’s most sonically varied and ambitious offering yet. Moving outside of the confines of a traditional four-piece set-up to augment their emo-by-way-of-U2 sound, the band experiments with twerky synth-pop, gospel chorus flourishes, Phil Spector-style girl group bop and angular guitar textures. Williams’ performance here is both antagonistic and anthemic, writing each track with a “fuck-you” independence that never boils over into salty aggression, but still manages to soar with eruptive hooks.
The album, like Paramore’s past work, remains a polished gem of pop-punk/alt-rock, but there’s a razor sharp edginess filling the speakers that’s reminiscent of Metric‘s in-the-red, synth-driven indie rock. Tracks like the No Doubt-cribbing “Grow Up” and ’80s new romantic-tinged “Part II” aren’t locked into the rigid matrix of a four-to-six chord power riff that was Paramore’s heartbeat for their first three albums, and both songs feel looser and more creatively unhinged as a result.
Nervy debut single “Now” is a massive Frankenstein of swirling vapor trail guitars and disjointed melodies — like the opening hook from Williams declaring “Don’t try to take this from me/Don’t try to take this from me/Now-ah-ah-ow/ Now-ah-ah-ow.” The towering chorus builds with a Muse-ian refrain (“There’s a time and a place to die!”), and that’s all leading up to Williams hitting an operatic last note with the force of a thousand disgruntled band-mates.
Nothing else on the album quite reaches the quivering bombast of “Now,” but the admirable experiments on the gospel-inflected “Ain’t It Fun” and the Ronettes-meets-The Crush high school melodrama of “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” are fantastic complements. Even the low-key, sarcastic, borderline passive-aggressive yukelele-driven interludes are a nice break in the action, giving Williams a chance to show some rapier wit while throwing some well-deserved shade in the direction of her former bandmates.
Even if these smaller asides and studio leg stretches don’t always work beyond an interesting idea, Williams is more than talented enough to make up the difference. And honestly, that experimental pop laboratory spirit is what makes this album an impressive step towards the next phase of the band’s career. Paramore is at its most exhilarating when Williams and Co. realize they can skip the script and do whatever the hell they want in the studio, creating weird new amalgamations from their stadium-ready sound and growing list of influences.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: A sequel to concert favorite “Let the Flames Begin,” “Part II” builds to a worthy crescendo with guitar work that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Cure‘s Disintegration.
Best Listened To: While firing roman candles off from your car as you and your friends do 70 on some back country road.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Patrick Bowman
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