Overall Score: 6/10 Vocals: 8/10 Uniqueness: 5/10 Memorable Songs: 6/10 Pros: Hayley's vocals | Clever lyrics in places | Hard Times Cons: Second half of the album is repetitive | lacks direction in places
Paramore’s After Laughter is an album that, as has been well documented, very nearly didn’t see the light (or get made full stop for that matter). But after various tribulations, Paramore, now consisting of Hayley Williams, Taylor York and the returning Zac Farro, have produced After Laughter. Has it been worth the considerable wait?
The album comes out swinging hard with opener Hard Times. It’s about as pop as Paramore have ever sounded and has a distinctive eighties feel, but it’s got some enormous vocal hooks, and that chorus will lodge itself into your brain for weeks, whether you want it there or not. Rose Coloured Boy and Told You So continue this pattern, with both being perfectly enjoyable songs but still giving off the sense that things are a long way away from the band that brought you Misery Business. There’s even a fairly large stylistic gap to their previous self-titled album, which at the time was regarded itself as a major departure from what had gone before, but nonetheless it’s a promising beginning to After Laughter.
It’s around Forgiveness that the first cracks surface. While on this song Hayley’s vocals are still perfectly enjoyable, there’s very little else going on of note, and the song feels underpowered as a result, rather than the understated effect they were probably looking for. Lyrically the most interesting track on the album is “Fake Happy”, paying homage to the perceptions that people like to project on social media and other areas of life that can be hiding the truth for many people. It’s a really well constructed song that will resonate with many, many people. Pool is another well constructed track from a lyrical perspective, with the music just about staying on the right side of not being overwhelmed by the vocals.
Unfortunately, Pool is probably the last highlight on the album, as the remaining tracks offer little of interest besides Hayley’s vocals, and even to a hardcore Paramore fan these tracks are likely to feel repetitive before reaching the end of After Laughter. Caught In The Middle’s main riff is a brief foray into funk territory which is best forgotten as soon as it’s heard, while No Friend seems like a wholly unnecessary mostly instrumental extension of Idle Worship. Tell Me How brings the album to a close with another enjoyable vocal performance from Hayley, but like some of the other later tracks, it has a feeling of treading water somewhat and thus the album ends on something of a flat note.
After Laughter feels like an album where Paramore have very much struggled with their identity and musical direction. The end result is by far their most mainstream and “poppy” release to date, and whether that is viewed as a good thing will largely come down to what it is individual listeners like about the band. Given the band’s near destruction over the last few years, many will be happy to have a new Paramore album of any sort. Other, more cynical fans and reviews have already said that this feels like a window dressed Hayley Williams solo album, and that despite the presence of Taylor and Zac, the Paramore name should have been put to rest. This review does not share that view, as bands are well entitled to change their style as they see fit, even if they lose some fans along the way (Linkin Park anyone?). Ultimately, After Laughter is a welcome return from Paramore, but it is definitely an album that misfires as often as it gets it right.
After Laughter is released today (12th May 2017) on Fueled By Ramen.