By Roman Salomone, Contributor
[Atlantic Records; 2023]
Key tracks: “This Is Why”, “Big Man, Little Dignity”, “Figure 8”, “Thick Skull”
Let’s take a second to travel back in time a decade ago. Paramore just released their fourth full-length album: a boldly self-titled double LP which was easily one of the most ambitious releases mainstream rock had to offer. The record saw its share of success with career defining singles like “Still Into You” and the Grammy-winning “Ain’t It Fun,” but received critical reception that severely underplayed the band’s shift to bold and different sounds. Flash forward to the present day, and Paramore’s influence in music is almost unavoidable and coming from every direction, while Hayley and company continue to evolve and pen tunes that reach far outside of their mid-aughts output, like their sweet 2017 synth-pop detour After Laughter.
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It’s 2023 and the pop-punk darlings of Hot Topic’s peak have made a legitimate post-punk revival record. Specifically, they’re chasing that beautiful sound of 2000s dance punk. Obvious influences like Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture, and especially Bloc Party are pretty heavy, but goddamnit, they are good ones. And the band makes it clear they know what they’re doing, right from the lead single and title track “This Is Why”, which kicks the album off. Between the bitey guitars, nimble bassline, dancefloor-ready drum groove, and the jittery, agoraphobic lyrics, it’s a fantastic song that sets the stage for the rest of the record’s sound and themes of Hayley’s post-pandemic worries.
The following two tracks really set the album up for the bases to be loaded. The fiery barnburner “The News” cunningly captures Hayley’s restless and anxious feelings toward the constant doom & gloom of 24-hour news cycles. Then “Running Out Of Time” hits with a strong disco beat, a super snappy chorus, and might be the perfect anthem for falling behind and being rushed in the constantly preoccupied world. Sure both songs evoke some Favourite Worst Nightmare and Silent Alarm energies respectively, but the way Paramore shape these inspirations to their style and basically try to one-up them makes it all sound so fresh and exciting.
“Big Man, Little Dignity” marks the album’s first cooldown point and sits excellently in the tracklist. The ties between 80s synthpop ballad and modern indie rock qualities echo that of records like the Strokes’ The New Abnormal, but the cut still shines really well, especially on the glittery chorus. Although some lyrics aren’t deeply poetic, (ie. “Your subscription to redemption has been renewed”) the way Hayley delivers herself throughout the song speaks volumes despite her relatively reserved approach.
And thankfully, the back half holds up just as well as the first. “You First” sounds like it could have been from any pre-After Laughter album, which is another way to say it’s great. Vocally, Hayley sounds as hungry as the stray animal she alludes to in the lyrics, using it as a metaphor for choosing honesty over cheap and petty ways out. Then there’s “Figure 8”, which kicks the most ass out of any cut here. Right from the first few lines, it’s very apparent the track is about being in a toxic relationship caught in a never-ending cycle. The bubbling and plucky arpeggios that play throughout the verses make for a really neat and alluring experience. The sputtering snub-nosed riffs combined with the shouty “I don’t know how to stop” on the prechorus go insanely hard, and then the chorus just blasts down so boldly with a wall of crashing drums and distorted guitars. And wow, the way Hayley screams “All for your sake / Became the very thing that I hate / I lost my way / Spinnin’ in an endless figure eight” is devastating and straight up spine-chilling.
The album’s final moments are fairly tame compared to the prior seven cuts, with the ballad “Liar” and semi-slow jam “Crave,” both of which are fairly decent. But the strongest one by far is the closing track, “Thick Skull,” a pained and passionate slowburner with an absolutely explosive chorus. Featuring some of Hayley’s best lyricism ever, verse lines like “I am attracted to broken people / I pick ’em up and now my fingers are bleedin’ / And it looks like my fault” are just gut-wrenching through and through. Even for being a very emotionally anguished song, it still plays like a stunning fireworks send-off to the album.
To keep it simple, This Is Why is a great, immediate rock album. Paramore delivers exactly what they’ve done since the 2000s: great songwriting fundamentals, fire performances from the whole band, and hooks that refuse to age. The jagged guitars and killer grooves on the more visceral tracks are awesome, as are the more mellow, vulnerable points. A couple tracks are a bit underwhelming when compared to others, but still, they’re all heat to an extent. If anything, I really hope This Is Why opens up the wonderful world of post punk and new wave to a new audience.