Credit: Fueled By Ramen
Especially when it comes to music made by women, rock bands are frequently described in terms of their infancy or when they're all-grown-up. Rarely is there an album that so perfectly encapsulates the in-between, the space where Paramore now occupies with the release of their self-titled set out this week.
Prior to recording, two of the band's founding members were gone; the group took on deft hired gun Justin Meldal-Johnsen in the studio to round out the rhythm section; and with that, the band embraced the "alt"-ness of alt-rock and let no genre border hinder them.
The result, for one, furthermore firms up Hayley Williams as one of modern pop music's more daring vocalists, unafraid of the big notes, brilliant with the small, and yet still excited to introduce sarcasm and fun into her own emotional narratives. And for anyone who's seen Paramore live, she's a damn superstar, with seemingly no need for filters or autotune on her raw abilities.
Instrumentally, the band experiments with girl-group backing vocals, travel guitars, glockespiels, hell, even a triangle in one breath, and then lunge into shoegaze like "Future" or '90s ska and new-wave for "Now" or the fearless power-pop of "Daydreaming." Treacly but endlessly catchy "Hate to See Your Heart Break" that, given different backing, would have Carrie Underwood clawing for the rights.
But this is all interlaced with the band's space-bound rock and peepholes of pop-punk, their bread and butter, yielding "Part II (Flame)," coy new single "Still Into You" and rock 'n' roller "Ankle Biters."
"Some of us have to grow up sometimes / And so if I have to I'm gonna leave you behind..." Williams sings in kiss-off and break-out "Grow Up. "I don't want your pity / So don't feel sad for me / I got a love I would die for and a song to sing / Maybe we're both just living out our dream." She alludes to, again, moving on and re-establishing professional and romantic ideals in "Daydreaming" and oozes self-awareness of her own maturation (and lack thereof) in a trio of ukelele-led Interludes.
But even in these moments of epic, arena-filling, teeth rattling rockers, Paramore gets a little ahead of itself. "Ain't It Fun" certainly sounds fun, hopping from an '80s adult-rock groove to Pink anthem to honest-to-God gospel. But why gospel? The band does it because it can. This doesn't seem to further any other goal then find a new way to sing the chorus, an impulsive way to prove to listeners they're capable of copping a style that's outside their wheelhouse. Same goes for the interludes, the whopping 8-minute "Future," the endless chorus vamps, the 17-song tracklist, a couple overly eager synth-lines, the 62 minutes of playtime. Length and idiosyncratic hiccups don't make "Paramore" a better album, but they seem like they have something to prove. Not a deal-breaker -- and certainly not to their fans -- but some annoyance nonetheless.
However, they're still growing up. Paramore is fully becoming the band they're intended to be. This substantial album is the best stepping stone so far to get them there.