Paramore’s ‘After Laughter’ finds hope in heartbreak

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On May 12, Paramore released their fifth studio album, “After Laughter.” The album was announced April 19, following the release of the first single, “Hard Times.” Like the single, the album went above and beyond everyone’s already high expectations.

Paramore has successfully transitioned from the angsty rock they started with to a more upbeat alternative-pop sound. “After Laughter” showcases this perfectly, taking on musical styles of the 1980s — though if you think this album is merely fun, ’80s-inspired pop music, you’re mistaken.

It is undeniable that most of the tracks sound cheerful, but if you look closer at the lyrics, you can feel that they are still an emo band at heart. The 12 tracks cover themes of depression (“Hard Times,” “Fake Happy”), growing up (“26,” “Caught In The Middle,”) heartbreak (“Forgiveness,” “Pool”) and fame (“Idle Worship,” “No Friend”).

Despite the catchy beats and melodies, it is clear from the start that this will not be a light-hearted, experimental album. Cohesive and strong, both in lyrics and sound; the second time around, you pick up on the exhilarating juxtaposition between the upbeat sound and the often-depressing lyrics.

The album opens up with three of these more subtle sad songs (“Hard Times,” “Rose-Colored Boy,” “Told You So”), so it isn’t until the fourth song, “Forgiveness,” that the underlying grief truly is revealed. The song, while still sounding optimistic, packs the record’s first emotional punch.

This is followed by “Fake Happy,” which returns to the faux-happy vibes of the first three songs. After “Forgiveness,” however, the mood has shifted to the more serious themes that were conveyed at the beginning.

“26,” is an emotionally-charged track about holding onto your dreams. It is more stripped back than much of what Paramore has done before, which makes it stand out from the rest of the album.

The pacing picks back up with “Pool,” a song about being in a relationship filled with ups-and-downs. It is not as upbeat as the others, but it is ultimately one of the more positive songs on the album.

“Grudges” leads into the more heavy topics: the downfalls of fame, feeling stuck in time, and letting go of the past, the latter of which this song is focused on. As with Paramore’s eponymous album from 2013, this song is a way of communicating a desire to move on from the past. This could be taken as a personal challenge, or it could be a reference to all of the drama that has surrounded the band’s lineup over the years.

The next song, “Caught In The Middle,” carries on themes of being afraid of growing up. The song begins with the line, “I can’t think of getting old, it only makes me want to die,” which contrasts greatly with the otherwise peppy music. This song can be summed up by another line from the song: “can’t look back, can’t look too far ahead.”

This idea of dealing with a public image and body of work is expanded on in the next two tracks, “Idle Worship” and “No Friend.” The first is about how celebrities are put on pedestals despite the fact that they are “not your superhuman.” The latter is more specific to the band, filled with references to the past that most fans would pick up on.

Aaron Weiss, mewithoutYou’s frontman, takes over Hayley Williams’ vocals on this track with his signature style: spoken word. The sudden change of tempo is jarring, forcing listeners to pay attention to what he is saying about the uncomfortable relationship between fans and artists.

The album closes with “Tell Me How,” a piano ballad about unclear feelings. “Tell me how I feel about you now,” is repeated throughout the song, ending an otherwise upbeat, albeit depressing, album on a mellow, reflective note. “I can still believe” is the last line of the song, which is a stark contrast from the album’s opening line, “All that I want is to wake up fine.”

“After Laughter” does not necessarily come full circle because it is clear that these themes cannot be resolved in 42 minutes, but it does a phenomenal job of exploring topics that most pop artists don’t dare to.

Not that Paramore is a pop band — behind all of the pop melodies and tempos is that same band we all fell in love with. Their sound may have changed over the last couple of years, but the heart of Paramore remains, and that is more clear than ever with “After Laughter.”

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