Paramore, past and future.
I really blew it by waiting so long to do that. From the very first time I heard it, I could tell that it was a better album than "Riot!", which I'd always found a bit inconsistent. In comparison to that album, "All We Know Is Falling" is far less pop-punk, and far more emo. I know that Paramore have been covering Sunny Day Real Estate's "Faces In Disguise" in recent live sets, and while I took that to be a good sign, I also found it rather surprising. With the new perspective I've gained by hearing their first album, though, it's a good bit less so. Emo has been in their DNA from day one, apparently. Take "Emergency," the single from this album, and the first track I heard from it. It begins with a single-note guitar line, which quickly leads into an energetic verse riff. Those two parts alternate over the course of the first verse, and while both are melodic, neither are ever poppy, instead having a more downbeat, melancholy feel. When the song finally does reach the chorus, it explodes, but not into the sort of upbeat, sugary chorus that marked the best songs on "Riot!" "Emergency"'s chorus is more the sort of octave-chord crescendo that you'd expect to find on a Mineral album. Hayley Williams's excellent singing voice is put to great use here, as she reaches for and effortlessly attains the sort of high note that most emo singers are incapable of. "I've seen love die way too many times when it deserved to be alive," she sings, and while that might just be a case of stretching a metaphor a bit too far (especially when she follows it with the line "I've seen you cry way too many times when you deserved to be alive," which doesn't even really make sense), there's real emotion at the heart of it, and over the powerful chorus riff, that's enough to make it work. The excellent half-speed solo that comes after the second chorus, over which Hayley quietly croons, is even awesomer, and reminds me of a lot of the bands I was listening to back in the late 90s. It's kind of insane--I had no idea that Paramore were capable of this kind of greatness.
If anything, the next song, "Brighter," is even better. Again, they contrast verses driven by melodic, undistorted lead guitar lines with a driving chorus over which Hayley sings some amazing high notes, but rather than coming across as repetition of a formula, it just seems like Paramore are upping their musical intensity. "Brighter" is slightly slower than "Emergency," but the contrast between verse and chorus is more drastic, and both the guitars and the vocals seem to be reaching for more on the chorus. As Hayley sings the lead vocal part on the chorus, the guys in the band back her up, quietly singing a "whoa-oh" harmony part that might have been cheesy in lesser hands but instead is a perfect counterpoint. The best part, though, is the bridge that follows the second chorus. As one guitar launches into a beautiful lead line, the rhythm section drops into an awesome chugging half-speed breakdown. I love it when bands combine melody with heaviness in this manner; it creates a tense, emotional mood that is perfect for songs about the sorts of topics that emo bands often deal with--breakups, loneliness, you know the deal.
Which reminds me: I haven't mentioned the lyrics to "Brighter" before now, and I really should, especially if I'm going to point out weaknesses in other lyrics on the same album. "Brighter" has no such weaknesses; its lyrics are about a relationship that might be ending, and Hayley captures perfectly the way it feels to have someone you love consider leaving you. "If it ends today," she sings on the first verse, "I'll still say that you shine brighter than anyone." She cares too much to hold a grudge. I've been through breakups like that, and it's almost worse than breaking up with someone because you don't get along anymore. At least when you feel frustration and anger towards an ex, it's easier to tell yourself that you're better off without them. When those feelings are absent, all you can really feel is that you want them back. At the end of the chugging bridge, Hayley asks, "If you run away now, will you come back around?" Then, over a brief return to the verse riff, she says, "If you run away, I'll still wave goodbye, watching you shine bright." When the whole band crashes back into one last chorus, Hayley nearly screaming, "Must we go there? Please, not this time," it's enough to break your heart.
(Sorry about all the screaming teen girls in this video, I know it's annoying)
There are several other songs on this record that are just as good as those two, from the opening title track and the closing ballad "My Heart" to a song called "Whoa," which I expected to be lame just because it has, let's face it, kind of a crappy title. But even though the lyrics aren't really much better than the title, it doesn't matter, because it's just too catchy to be denied. "Whoa" points towards the eventual sound of "Riot!" more than the other songs on "All We Know Is Falling," but it's more like the better songs on that record. In fact, even the worst songs on this record are still better than "Riot!"'s lesser lights. Once I realized that, I couldn't help but think that my worst fears about the new Paramore album were probably going to come true, that if the transition between their first two albums led them from emo to pop-punk, the transition from their second to third album would probably leave them a full-on pop group. I didn't want to see them create their own version of "Infinity On High," but I feared it was inevitable.
A few weeks ago, I was in Philadelphia for about 16 hours, hanging out with some internet friends from up that way. At one point, we were all at an awesome dive bar with an internet jukebox, and one of my friends and I started talking about Paramore. I mentioned my fear that their new album would suck, and he told me about a song they'd contributed to the "Twilight" soundtrack that he'd really liked. As it turned out, the bar's internet jukebox was able to play the song in question, and he put it on. It wasn't "Decode," the song from that album that everyone seems to know, but "I Caught Myself," which I'd never even heard of. It sounded pretty good when it started, but it wasn't until the last minute or so of the song that I really fell in love with it. Don't get me wrong, the acoustic verses are pretty great, but there isn't that much of a chorus. In fact, the song is structured more like a Sunny Day Real Estate song than anything else I've heard Paramore do. It's mostly built around a repeating melodic riff, which ebbs and flows in intensity, until finally, with about 45 seconds left in the song, the distortion kicks in and Hayley starts singing the way she did on the choruses of those first-LP songs. Better yet, for the last few seconds of the song, the drummer drops back to half speed, and the bass and rhythm guitar get heavier, pounding on the last few chords as Hayley nearly screams, "Now I know what I want. I should have never thought!" I'm not sure what the rest of the song is about; the other lyrics have never really caught my attention. But that awesome, dramatic ending was enough to make me fall in love with the song, which I have listened to many times since that night in Philly, and which I love all the way through now. I like "Decode" well enough too, but if that were Paramore's only contribution to the "Twilight" soundtrack, I probably wouldn't be feeling that great about their new album. But for the past few weeks, I've really been looking forward to it.
Now, in the last week or so, songs that will actually be on the new album are starting to leak out in dribs and drabs. The first to show up was "Ignorance," which featured an entertaining video in which the band performed in a closet, Hayley precariously balancing on the bass drum in order to sing into a bare, dangling lightbulb as if it were a microphone. "Ignorance" is more like the songs on "Riot!" than anything else I've heard from Paramore lately, but thankfully, it's not sugary. Instead, there's a real punk-rock bite to this song, as the guitars are distorted throughout, the drumming is fast and furious, and the chorus features chugging rhythm riffs and a backing vocal track of Hayley yelling underneath her more melodic lead vocal. I'm really into it, and with this song representing the more punk end of the spectrum and "I Caught Myself" the more emo side of things, I can safely assume that the new album's gonna rule, perhaps even more than "Riot!" did.
It's funny--I damn near wrote this blog post a week ago. I don't really know what stopped me, although with my writing there always seems to be some sort of mental block working its evil magic. As it turns out, though, this was for the best, because sometime in the last day or two, I discovered another new song on the internet. Apparently Paramore taped an appearance for MTV Unplugged back in June, and as part of it, they played not only "Ignorance" but another new track called "Brick By Boring Brick." The unplugged version of that song is the only one you can find online right now, so I recognize that I'm not judging this track by the version that will be on the album, but still. Holy fucking shit. This song is incredible. In fact, having only been aware of it for maybe five hours now, I will go out on a limb and say that it's the best Paramore song I've ever heard. It's more on the emo side of things, or at least appears to be in acoustic form, and has a gorgeously catchy chorus of the melodramatic, emotional sort that tends to bring a tear to my eye (yes, I've always been this emotional, why do you ask?). But what impresses me the most about it is the lyrics. I've never really considered Hayley Williams all that great at writing lyrics, and if I remember correctly, the most praise I had for them in my post about "Riot!" was that they were generally inoffensive. "Brick By Boring Brick" blows all of that wide open. I mean, maybe this is just a sign that she's maturing (she's actually gonna be 21 in a few months!), but the lyrics to "Brick By Boring Brick" are the most complex, nuanced, and emotionally dead on lyrics I've heard from her. This is miles away from "Misery Business," that's for sure.
The song begins with Hayley telling us of a girl who "lives in a fairytale," and has "forgotten the taste and smell of the world she left behind." Eventually, in the second verse, her prince comes to save her, but "it was a trick, and the clock struck 12." Apparently the prince was an illusion all along. And this is where the real point of the song comes. "Make sure to build your house brick by boring brick, or the wolf's gonna blow it down," Hayley sings, and she's making what I consider to be an excellent point: reality, no matter how humdrum, no matter how unfulfilling, is always better than a beautiful illusion. "You built up a world of magic, because your real life is tragic, but if it's not real, you can't see it with your eyes or feel it with your heart." This is something I've struggled with a lot over the course of my life. Hell, look at me now--I haven't had a successful date in something like two years, haven't had a girlfriend in nearly five. It's tough sometimes, because god knows I get lonely, but the last thing I want to do is bury myself in some illusory escape, spend all day on instant messenger talking to lonely girls on the other side of the country from me, or roleplay myself into a better life on Worlds Of Warcraft or some such. I've dabbled in both of those scenarios at different points in my life, and it was a relief to leave them behind, even if it was also sad as hell. "Go get your shovel," Hayley sings on the chorus. "We'll dig a deep hole and bury the castle." This is brilliant shit. This is the kind of thing that even I, at 33, need to hear from time to time. And I definitely think it's a positive message to send out to all the insecure teenage girls who are blasting Paramore in suburban bedrooms all over the country even as I type.
The new record is called "Brand New Eyes." It comes out on September 29th. I for one cannot fucking wait.
Paramore - "Brighter," "Whoa," "I Caught Myself," and "Ignorance"