It’s old news by now: during December of 2010 two of Paramore’s founding members, brothers Josh and Zac Farro, quit the Nashville, Tennessee-bred band, shocking fans who had no idea that they were even having trouble. Initially, it was said to be an amicable split, but Josh eventually blogged his version of the story (http://joshnfarro.blogspot.com/2010/12/josh-and-zacs-exit-statement.html), bitching about “riding on the coattails of Hayley’s dream,” and how she’d been meeting with labels behind their backs before the band’s first album was even made. And how Hayley repeatedly contradicted herself, seeming like she wanted to be a band one minute and acting like she was a solo artist the next. Reading all of that, it’s a wonder that the group ever released one album together, never mind three. On one hand, you have to sympathize with Josh and Zac and question the size of Hayley’s ego. On the other hand, you might want to thank Josh and Zac for leaving the band because the band’s new self-titled album, their first without them, may very well be the best Paramore release to date.
The album kicks off with the propulsive “Fast In My Car,” opening with raw bursts of almost-industrial guitar, boisterous drums and occasional flourishes of electro-tinkering. If you heard an instrumental version of it, you’d probably suspect that it was Foo Fighters, the musicianship being that powerful. “Been through the wringer a couple times,” goes Hayley’s biting opening salvo. It’s far from being the only time that she’ll apparently refer to Josh and Zac on the album. She also sings about surviving without them here, “the three of us will initiate, we had to learn how to deal.” But it’s not all sarcasm, the energetic chorus being especially joyful as it goes, “we’ve got our riot gear on but we just want to have fun.” (Clearly, they’re referring to the band’s second album, Riot!, here.) We’re only one song into the album and already I’m sure you’ll be thrilled that Hayley, guitarist Taylor York, and bassist Jeremy Davis decided to soldier on as a trio.
“I’m bringing my sinking ship back to the shore,” Hayley declares during the album’s monstrous first single and second track, “Now.” This would seem to refer to naysayers who declared that the band would be worthless without Josh and Zac. Clearly, Hayley has a gift for sarcasm and she spits fire throughout the record. “Now” is in a vein similar to the band’s past hit “Misery Business,” which is probably why it was chosen to be the album’s first single, to show fans that they are, in fact, still the same band without Josh and Zac. That said, the track also displays a bold and engaging evolution of the band, making it clear that they’ve grown into something even greater than they were before.
The sarcasm continues during “Grow Up,” a crunchy rocker with barely-noticeable electro-embellishments that calls to mind Queens of the Stone Age with its battering drums and fuzzy guitars. “Some of us have to grow up sometimes, and so if I have to I’m gonna leave you behind,” goes the scathing but fun chorus. It would seem another stab is taken at the brothers when she sings, “we get along (for the most part)” four times at the end of the song. But enough about the brothers — suffice to say that their exit gave Hayley plenty of ink to write some of her most brutally honest, and often funny, lyrics to date.
Another entirely triumphant tune is “Ain’t It Fun,” which finds Hayley being sarcastic with herself. “Ain’t it fun, living in the real world,” she sings, clearly meaning the exact opposite. Musically, it’s one of the band’s most pop-minded songs to date, almost splitting the difference between Katy Perry and The Veronicas. But it’s got something you’re unlikely to ever hear on a song by either of those artists: a gospel choir, which sings, “don’t go crying to your mama cause you’re on your own in the real world.” Who knew a song about reluctantly growing up could be so infectious?
“Still Into You,” the album’s sugar-rush-filled second single, is equally pop-minded and catchy. “I should be over all the butterflies, but I’m into you,” goes the beaming chorus. It’s easily one of the band’s strongest singles to date and it delivers a worthwhile message about the perseverance of love. It’s also a wonderful song to listen to if you’re crushing on someone and want to listen to something that compliments a crush beautifully.
Another highlight is the rather amusing “Anklebiters,” a raw, little dynamo of a song with whirring percussion that finds the band so cool they’ll frost up your earbuds. “You know, anklebiters ate up your personality,” Hayley declares before singing, “someday you’re gonna be the only one you’ve got.”
Also noteworthy is “Proof,” a very upbeat, cheerful song that calls to mind Bon Jovi and Boys Like Girls and should definitely be a single. You have to dig the lovelorn chorus: “Baby, if I’m half the man I say I am, if I’m a woman with no fear like I claim I am, then I believe in what you say, there’s nothing left for you to do, the only proof I need is you.”
Thirteen songs into the album they finally deliver a ballad in the form of “Hate To See Your Heart Break.” It’s a sweet, pretty, mellow tune with soothing strings that should thrill fans of “The Only Exception” and “In The Mourning.” “I hate to see your heart break, I hate to see your eyes get darker as they close, but I’ve been there before,” Hayley sings reassuringly with an air of vulnerability in her voice. She keeps her guard up during much of the album, so it’s nice to see her singing entirely from the heart here.
With a whopping 17 songs — if you count Hayley’s three ukulele-driven interludes, which are kind of like miniature songs themselves — the self-assured, stunningly produced album is undoubtedly a lot to digest. But it’s certainly worth taking the time to get to know it. For one thing, there truly isn’t a bad song on it, though I could have done without the interludes. And it’s also one of those classic albums where you’ll find that your favorite song changes each time you listen to it because there are so many incredible songs. Honestly, almost any song on the album could be a single. Every time I listen to it, I end up immediately wanting to listen to it again because the hooks are so bloody contagious.