Life is going to give you an assorted amount of problems. Sometimes they are internal. As you grow older, the things you once knew to be true may not fit like an old, raggedy piece of clothing. There are external factors — pressures from loved ones and people making their exit. After you fight so many wars, your arms get tired of throwing punches.
2013’s self-titled album saw Paramore meet adversity with a rebel cry that whispers of the band’s demise was an exaggeration. First, there was the Farrow brothers’ departure in 2010 on rather bad terms, and then there was 2015 when bassist Jeremy Davis left. With bands, it’s rare that you don’t see some sort of turnover. Priorities change, families grow, and people drift apart. But for a five year period, Paramore were fighting to keep the ripped strands of rope together.
After Laughter is the much needed, sometimes painfully honest shedding of skin. Before you can move on to something you, you have to be honest with where you’d been and what you’ve gone through. Musically, Paramore sought to tear down the foundations of raucous punk-rock past. “Hard Times” is a shock to the system that invokes feeling of the ’80s, complete with marimba and synth-y keyboards. After subsequent listens, it grows on you, setting the course ahead for the band to invest in a new definition for themselves.
From there, the groundwork is laid down to show the juxtaposition of the first three songs. There’s this upbeat, infectious musical rhythm invoking bands like Blondie, but the lyrics tell a story of self-doubt and the feelings of depression. “Rose-Colored Boy” is almost being annoyed with anyone who is unconsciously upbeat. Perhaps lead singer is Hayley Williams looking at a mirror image of herself from a time when she was stronger. “Told You So” is the story of Paramore’s troubles in the past few years. Something that you know will give you trouble, yet you go back to it again expecting a different result — that’s truly insanity.
“Fake Happy” is a bridge between many of the songs and themes that are steadfast in After Laughter. It starts as an acoustic song, but William’s vocals are worn and echoed. The “veil” of happiness is stripped down. We live in a world where social media cultivates putting on your best face. Paramore shows that you don’t need to put a smile on everything.
There’s an intricate attention to details with these songs. Guitarist Taylor York is able to explore many subtleties because the album is not so focused on power chords. There’s a funk guitar riff that is placed in such a way that it’s almost answering back the space that Williams leaves in the chorus of “Told You So”. In the beginning seconds of “Pool”, the keys have this effect that act like what you would envision with light hitting a pool of water.
York and bassist/producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen build a musical companionship that allows both the guitar and bass to have their moments. Zac Farro returns behind the drum for the first time since 2010 and becomes the glue to the rhythm. “Grudges” is the official soundtrack to the reconciliation of Farro in the band, which even features him on vocals.
Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, we are too wounded by our current situations that we are not able to move beyond the past slings and arrows — and that’s okay. “Forgiveness,” the first mid-tempo, almost dreamy track, deals with both sides of this. Forgiving someone begets a lot of energy, especially when you have to repair yourself (“And you, you want forgiveness / I can barely hang on to myself”).
There’s also that part of you that will forgive to free yourself, but not to forget what happened (“Don’t you go and get it twisted / Forgiving is not forgetting“). It’s a prevalent theme in the album considering multiple sides of Williams and aging. “26” is a beautifully done conversation between optimist and pessimist. The acoustic guitar of York combined with the orchestral piece gives you the feeling of looking at old home movies, daydreaming, or peering out a car window during a long drive. Perhaps, the “rose-colored boy” is the energetic daredevil that lives inside of all of us in an allegory for that inside voice to keep moving. “Caught in the Middle” touches on getting older and regretting not doing things differently.
“Idle Worship” takes the depiction of Williams’ warrior portrayal head on. The bright-dyed heroine is no more for the time being. We envision musicians as our heroes that touch the Mario star and never come down from invincibility. This song is taking vulnerability back. The “la la la”s are sung in a mocking manner almost rejecting Williams’ “past life.”
After Laughter is not a big, elaborate title for an album. It doesn’t need to be. Like a chapter in any story, it’s the heading of a time period. It’s a collection of words and sounds that learns lessons from the past to be content in the future, not necessarily fighting through it.
Featured Image Credit: Pooneh Ghana/DIY Magazine
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