Their latest proves that grown up life is in 2023 is just as brutal as teen angst.
Paramore have mastered the art of maturing gracefully. Beginning with the band’s self-titled 2013 album, it has slowly peeled itself away from the mainstream emo/pop-punk world it once dominated (all while dealing with constant lineup shake-ups). In the process, Paramore have found themselves attached to a different kind of musical nostalgia, zeroing in on the slick sounds of Eighties rock and New Wave without so much as a hint of corny pastiche. As omnivorous fans and champions of younger artists, they always remain steeped in pop’s ever-evolving present.
Now, nearly two decades since the band released its debut album, All We Know Is Falling, the Tennessee-born group is exerting more of an indelible influence on current pop music than ever before (see the high-polished angst of Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish), even as it continues moving further and further from the emo-pop sound it helped reinvent. This Is Why is Paramore’s excellent foray into post-punk, riddled with a new set of anxieties — from witnessing global events to dealing with entering your thirties.
Lead single “This Is Why” sets a menacing, urgent tone. Not only does it connect back to the dance-y funk of 2017’s After Laughter, but it also provides a thread to lead singer Hayley Williams’ excellent 2020 solo foray, Petals for Armor, specifically that LP’s dark pop of single “Simmer.” It sets a sharp tone for the album and its subject matter: paranoia and frustration about the lack of human empathy even after the unbearably awful shared traumas the world has faced in recent years. “The News” is a ruthless companion, about our fickle but often all-consuming relationship with the trauma porn on our TVs and newsfeeds: “I’m far, so far from a front line/Quite the opposite, I’m safe inside/But I worry and I give money/And I feel useless behind this computer/And that’s just barely scratched the surface of my mind.” Taylor York’s guitar is as quick and pointed as a knife as Williams sings about our normal.
Thoughts on aging pervade the songs. Williams, York, and drummer Zac Farro are just entering their mid-thirties but have lived multiple lifetimes in the band’s long career. In rock-star years, they’re veterans and they feel it in their bones: References to chiropractor appointments and a lack of time make their way into their songs now. Elsewhere they offer sparks of sage advice, like the karmic revelations on “You First”: “Living well is not my kind of revenge/You should take it from me/Living well is just a privilege.”
The glimmer of light within the darkness comes through in the hidden gem “Liar,” a moody and tender ballad that serves as a discreet love song, wrapped in a bit of self-loathing. “Love is not an easy thing to admit/But I am not ashamed of it/Love is not a weakening/If you feel it rushing in,” Williams sings softy. It’s proof that the teen angst that fuels pop punk and emo never really dies; it merely mutates.