What do you do when the world around you gets a little strange? Paramore seem to embrace the weird on This Is Why, their quirky sixth studio album that largely relies on post-punk chord progressions, Bloc Party influences worn proudly on their sleeves, all mixed in a blender on the highest speed to see what concoction comes out in the end. In the interviews leading up to the release of this record, the band seemed to be getting more comfortable in their collective skin. They mentioned that the songs they were crafting for the follow up to After Laughter were more “guitar-driven” and the band found themselves “listening to a lot of older music” that inspired them to make a career in music in the first place. Whereas After Laughter was originally seen as fairly dramatic departure from the punk-tinged sound the band had cut their teeth to early on, the same could easily be said about this next dramatic leap of faith on This Is Why. Paramore has always been a band that has challenged the artistic norms of what is expected of them, and have grown accustomed to their audience wanting a certain “version” of themselves. In what may be their most polarizing record to date, Paramore continue to push the envelope of creativity in dramatic ways, and find their band going through yet another reinvention. The metamorphosis of this trio may just be complete.
This Is Why is largely a reactionary album to the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet there’s so many themes that can carry over to situations in both a pre- and post-pandemic world. It’s been said over time that an artist’s most important record is their current one, and that can still be applied in the case of Paramore, since the band is planning to embark on a comprehensive arena tour to test the limits of their audience’s patience with these complex songs. While many fans may take an exit ramp to the style the band went for here, those who have seen them grow from the beginning may not be too surprised to see Paramore try and adjust the lens of who they are and want to be. Much like the zoomed in artwork of their faces being pressed to glass, Paramore are putting themselves on display for all the world to embrace, analyze, but most importantly, grow with them too.
There’s a little bit of everything going on here on This Is Why, and that’s probably why I connected with it so fully. It’s got some of the vocal stylings that vocalist Hayley Williams tinkered with on her two solo albums (Petals for Armor and Flowers For Vases / Descansos), the guitar-driven bliss of their self-titled record, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Taylor York, and some really interesting time signatures and percussion from Zac Farro. The title track, and first single to be released from the set, is a great introduction to the sound Paramore went for here, so it’s of little surprise to lead the record with it. Hayley uses a similar vibe in the verses of “This Is Why” to her solo work, before exploding into her comfort zone on the chorus of, “This is why / I don’t leave the house / You say the coast is clear / But you won’t catch me out / Oh, why? / This is why.” The guitars are in the forefront of the production, courtesy of Carlos de la Garza, and it’s easy to rally around each passionate lyric.
The second track of “The News” is probably the closest that Paramore gets to returning to the sound they went for on their self-titled record, so it made for another obvious choice of a single. The second verse of, “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,” hit a chord with me because it became too easy to get sucked into the negativity online, and doom scrolling through Twitter was probably the best option for my mental health. The band’s message of “turning off the news” is commendable, and yet being completely shut off from the world isn’t a good feeling either. “Running Out of Time” follows the raucous one-two punch of the first two singles with some beauty to embrace of its own. The guitar work from York is particularly interesting on songs like this, and complements the punchiness of Williams’ vocals. The track allows for the band to get the crowd excited with some dance-driven beats, paired with substance in each pointed lyric to reward the audience on repeat spins.
”C’est Comme Ça” is an earworm and a half with its manic chorus of, “C’est Comme Ça, C’est Comme Ça, Na Na Na Na!” and is sure to be stuck in your head long after the song has played out. The front half closes out with the more somber “Big Man, Little Dignity” that is a vocal-driven song that highlights Hayley Williams’ ability to be captivating even over the simplest of beats/grooves. The lyrical barbs in the second verse of, “Well-well-well-well look at you / Don’t you clean up nice? / Bet it feels good to leave the past behind / Your subscription to redemption has been renewed / You keep your head high / Smooth operator in a shit-stained suit,” are straight to the point, and the rest of the song plays out to a jazzy beat.
The back half opens with arguably the best song in the set, a track called “You First” that haunts the listener with the opening riff and verse of, “Living well is not my kind of revenge / You should take it from me / Living well is just a privilege / Thought I’d simmer down as I got older / Can’t shake the devil sitting on my shoulder.” The lyrics have odes to Hayley’s solo work along with some other references that should be familiar in our scene. What makes this track particularly powerful is its balance, the verses are more raucous whereas the chorus is vulnerable to strike just the right comparison between the sections.
”Figure 8″ is a similar song, in structure, to the aforementioned standout as it opens in a very familiar way with its repetitive guitar riff before breaking away into a very Paramore-esque chorus. “Liar” follows in the sequencing and it kind of gets a little lost in its delivery with its very somber approach and breathy vocals. It ends up being the longest song on This Is Why, and unfortunately feels like it takes forever to get through it. Hayley’s beautiful vocals in the chorus allow for it to be worthwhile, but it certainly feels closer to her solo work than anything else found here.
The pace picks up again on “Crave,” but only gradually, as this mid-tempo song broods along with pondering lyrics about trying to move forward, when part of ourselves are stuck in the past. The second verse is quite telling as Hayley sings, “I romanticize even the worst of times / When all it took to make me cry / Was being alive / Look up and see a reflection of someone who never gave way to the pain / What if I told ’em, now that I’m older, there isn’t a moment that I’d wanna change,” and her storytelling of her journey through the recovery of a divorce is quite powerful. “Thick Skull” trudges along to the finish line with more somber guitar chords and some great highs and lows in the vocal department from Hayley to keep things from feeling too sad. There are a few moments on the back half that feel a bit too similar to Hayley’s solo work to distinguish it as a Paramore song, but as a mentioned in the opening, this record is all about a reaction to a strange world being put in our faces for each of us to learn to cope with in our own way.
While it would be easy to write off this album as a small misstep along the way to discovering the “best” version of Paramore that can exist in this new world, I would argue that this band is maturing gracefully as they find new ways to keep things interesting in their artistic development. This record may not be for everyone, and that’s fine. You can always check out the band’s great discography to see where they came from, and you may even find hints of what they were going for here. This Is Why is a challenging listen, but maybe that’s the entire point. Life doesn’t come at us easy, and it’s our ability to deal with change that makes us who we are.