By Daniel G. Moir
Power Pop is one of the most challenging genres of music to pursue. If you succeed, you never get the respect you deserve. If you fail, you are nothing more than a punch line. A complete object of derision for the elitist arbiters of cool, Power Pop succeeds based on the how well it incorporates the following “Rules of Power Pop:”
- The music should be aggressive and upbeat.
- Guitars must be jagged, but the melodies and choruses are undeniably catchy and hook-laden.
- The soul can be laid bare, but no tears are ever shed.
- The point should be reached quickly and efficiently. Keep the drama short and sweet.
- Slower tempos can be employed, but at no time should the song ever be considered “A Power Ballad.” Somewhat tricky. Blink 182’s “I Miss You” is Power Pop; “Robbers” by The 1975 is not.
- Dancing to all the above is unavoidable.
It’s been a long four years since their last release, and Paramore has undergone numerous changes since their eponymous 2013 album. After bassist Jeremy Davis left the band in 2015 and the return of original drummer Zac Farro, Paramore has seen it’s share of drama (see Rule 4) and turmoil (Rule 3) and used it to fuel their fifth release. Fortunately for leader Haley Williams and crew, they succeed with easily the best album of their career and make After Laughter the album that defines the summer of 2017 so far.
Lead single “Hard Times” opens the recording and both summarizes the band’s recent history and intent. A simple ascending/descending xylophone melody and marimba pattern starts the album, but after a quick “one, two” shout from way in the background, the band is signaled into action by Farro’s powerful instrumental attack. A liquid bass line bobs and weaves throughout the verses before congealing with the band to form the blitzkrieg chorus.
This album may lyrically touch on themes of depression, betrayal and overall anxiousness, but it completely contrasts with the bright aggression of the music. A read through of the lyrics to “Fake Happy” reveal William’s true unhappiness hidden under a forward-facing bubbling personality. Aside from the brief dirge-like introduction, the bouncy, jubilant music mirrors this incongruency as well. Like the song’s message of hidden sadness behind a smiling face, the dourness of the lyrics is equally cloistered by the dynamic brightness of the track. This song succeeds on every level possible.
Williams is like a florescent vocal scribble all over the music and is at her most stunning on the instantly engaging “Rose-Colored Boy.” She employs side grunts, double-stops and multi-syllabic moans of words that explodes into a furiously energetic and hyper catchy chorus. Farro’s drums play powerfully against her vocal phrasing and the interplay of guitarist Taylor York as the band plays as if they are a three-headed hydra. “Rose-Colored Boy” feels like running breathlessly on the beach with uncontrollable exuberance.
Paramore follows Rule 5 effectively on “Forgiveness,” and gives the album a chance to catch its breath. Justin Meldal-Johnsen co-produced the album along with York and further contributed to the music by handling all the bass playing duties. His playing on this particular track is striking as he uses the instrument to create counter melodies that add without ever obscuring the song’s hook-laden melody. His long-standing relationship with the band makes him their invaluable secret weapon.
The only real stumbling block on the album comes near the end of the confusing “No Friend.” This track is largely a repetitive mid-tempo groove with intentionally muddy voices that rant with few discernable words. The track concludes with a spoken voice and the words:
“my friend stood at the shore and shouted to let go of the coat and swim back to land. I let go of the coat, but that coat won’t let go of me. In any case, please let me know if there is more that I can give you. If nothing comes of it, just know we are grateful.”
Uh, what? This song may be important in helping to convey the overall sense of anxiety that exists in the album lyric, but at 3:24 is far too long and serves as the album’s only piece of true “filler.”
The album closes with the piano based “Tell Me How.” A fitting end where the tenor of the music finally matches the sadness of the tales of lost relationships, and and finding oneself at the crossroads in life. After a bright, fun album filled with contrasting dark lyrics, “Tell Me How” finally matches both lyrical and musical tones together ending with an optimistic view of the future to come with the lyrics “I still believe.” For the survivors of Paramore and their internal drama, they use it to create a masterpiece of pure Power Pop.
Bottom Line: Both whip-smart and catchy, After Laughter is the sound of summer in an efficient 43 minutes of pure Power Pop magic.
Album Grade: A-
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin.
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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