Paramore – [Album]

Friday, 26 April 2013

There is a recurring debate in the art world, especially in art criticism, about how important biography is to understanding a piece of artwork. Does knowing that Fitzgerald was unwilling to propose to Zelda until he felt financially secure help us understand The Great Gatsby? Does knowledge of Van Gogh's (supposed) madness help us appreciate "Starry Night," or does it color our interpretation too much? Does it force us to see the swirling colors as evidence of a swirling mind, rather than just appreciating the beauty of the night sky?

Okay, Paramore's new, self-titled album is neither The Great Gatsby nor "Starry Night," but it is a case in which knowing the backstory inevitably colors one's interpretation of the music.

On a straight (let's call it uninformed) listen, one hears some catchy pop-punk with a ton of memorable hooks. One also hears a bunch of break-up songs, and the sound of someone dealing, perhaps for the first time, with certain issues of maturity and adulthood. It's a rocking album. Even the break-up songs are assertive — not "I'm so down," but "I'm so over you!" Music for a party, or for driving the freeways.

If one knows anything about Paramore, especially that they recorded their first album while still in high school, when lead singer Hayley Williams was sixteen years old, certain things stand out. Take those songs about growing up – that starts to sound like the theme of the entire album. Lines like "no more high school drama/… I've been saving money/ eating only top ramen" and "If there's a future/ we want it" jump out at you. You may also hear a new maturity in the music; some playing with new styles (there are even these "Interludes" where Williams accompanies herself on ukelele!). So, you say, it's a grown up album.

But, if you know that this is their first album after the departure of founding members Zac and Josh Farro, suddenly all sorts of new layers of meaning open up. All those break-up songs? They're not about some guy, they're her kiss-off to her former bandmates. And now you start to realize just how many break-up songs there are. Lines like "some of us have to grow up sometime/ if I have to, I'm going to leave you behind" ("Grow Up"), "I would be angry/ but you're not worth the fight/ besides, I'm moving on" ("Interlude: Moving On"), and "Don't go crying to your mama/ cause you're on your own in the real world" ("Ain't It Fun") acquire new relevance.

You might go back to the opening track, "Fast in My Car." Whereas before you just heard the chorus: "We're driving fast in my car/ and we just want to have fun," now you hear the verses:

        No one's the same as they used to be
        Much as we try to pretend
        No one's as innocent as could be
        We all fall short, we all sin

        But now we aren't looking backward
        We won't try raising the dead
        We only see what's in front of us
        We only see straight ahead
The song is no longer about a group of teens out for a fun night, but a portrait of the band as they forge ahead.

And then what if we dive all the way in, and listen to the rumors that the Farro brothers left because they felt the band was becoming too commercial? That it was being manipulated by the record company? At that point you notice that producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who has also produced M83 and Neon Trees, as well as playing bass with Beck and Nine Inch Nails) not only plays bass here, but co-wrote some of the catchiest songs? Is this album a true expression of their feelings, or is it a corporate manufactured product?

Does any of this help you enjoy the album? Probably not. In fact, by this point it has probably infected what was a happy party album with far more drama and back story than it can hold up under – unless you're a professor of rock music history or a critic who takes himself just a little too seriously. So erase everything I've just told you from your mind, hit the road, and crank up the volume. There… you'll likely enjoy Paramore's self-titled album much more.


Paramore – Paramore – “Still Into You” – [mp3]


Paramore's self-titled album is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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