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Album Review

When it comes to Paramore, the only constant is change.

And so it is again on these pop-punk stalwarts' fifth studio album, After Laughter. Among the changes? The band's style. This time around, it's a New Wave '80s synthesized dream. Longtime bass player Jeremy Davis left acrimoniously. Founding drummer Zac Farro, who left acrimoniously before the band's last album, is back. Meanwhile, fiery frontwoman Hayley Williams exchanged all that acrimony for matrimony, tying the knot with New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert in February 2016.

Now, you might think Williams would be in a better place, emotionally speaking, than she was on the band's self-titled 2013 album. Yeah, well, not so much. Melancholy, loss and hard feelings permeate After Laughter. Audio engineer Carlos d la Garza, who worked on the album, told The New York Times, "Something was eating at her, and she was able to use a lot of that as fuel for lyrics." Williams, who's reportedly wrestled with depression in the last year, seems to agree: "I couldn't imagine putting something on an album that says 'life's great, everything's cool, party with me."

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

"Idle Worship" cautions against thinking too highly of Williams: "Hey, baby, I'm not your superhuman, if that's what you want/ … Oh, it's such a long and awful lonely fall/Down from this pedestal you keep putting me on." There's also a plea for grace ("What if I make a mistake?/If it's OK, a little grace would be appreciated") and the recognition that all of us will ultimately let others down ("We all need heroes, don't we?/But rest assured there's not a single person here who's worthy"). The closest the album comes to offering a spiritual response to relational problems is when Williams sings, "I know that you're afraid to let all the dark escape ya'/But we could let the light illuminate these hopeless places."

"Hard Times" longs for release from a difficult season of life. "All that I want/Is to wake up fine," Williams sings. There's also a desperate, prayer-like request for something to shake up the status quo: "Gimme some sort of sign/You hit me with lightning/Maybe I'll come alive." And this line from "Rose-Colored Boy" could be heard as honest and authentic, even if it's nowhere near happy or contented: "I ain't gon' smile if I don't want to/ … I don't want anybody seeing me cry now."

"Told You So" finds Williams trying to maintain self-control ("At least I try/To keep my cool when I'm thrown into a fire"). "Forgiveness" acknowledges the difficulty of loving another person well: "How I thought I could love someone/I haven't even begun." One subtle line there could also be heard as implying that loving well requires God's help: "If it's all up to us, we might as well give up."

"Fake Happy" chastises those who aren't honest about their struggles. "26" counsels, "Hold on to hope if you got it/Don't let it go for nobody," even as is acknowledges that life will test our dreams: "Reality will break your heart/Survival will be the hardest part."

"Grudges" recognizes the futility of hanging onto grievances. About those titular grudges, Williams wonders, "Why did it take so long? Why did it take us so long to just let go?" Bittersweet "Tell Me How" longs for reconciliation in a broken relationship.

Objectionable Content

Despite its buoyant, bouncy musical hooks, "Hard Times" delivers a pessimistic message: "Hard times/Gonna make you wonder why you even try/Hard times/Gonna take you down and laugh when you cry." Meanwhile, "Rose-Colored Boy" takes an optimist to task ("Hey man, we can't all be like you/I wish we were all rose-colored too"), vulgarly vents anger ("Really, all I've got it just to stay p-ssed off/If that's all right by you") clings to bitterness ("And oh, I'm so annoyed/'Cause I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me") and articulates deep desperation ("I'm right at the end of my rope/A half-empty girl").

More of the same can be heard on "Told You So": "For all I know/The best is over and worst is yet to come," Williams sings, "Is it enough/To keep on hoping when the rest have given up?" Over and over we hear lines that indicate weary resignation about life's trials, which seem never ending to Williams: "Throw me into the fire/Throw me in, pull me out again/Throw me into the fire."

On "Forgiveness," Williams seems to understand that's what she needs to offer someone who made her "cry 'til I couldn't cry." But she can't get there: "And you, you want forgiveness/But I, I just can't do it yet." Later, bitterness creeps in a bit more: "Forgiving is not forgetting/ … No, I'll never forget it, no." A mildly suggestive line in that song also says, "There's still a thread that runs from your body to mine."

"Pool" grimly accuses, "'Cause no one breaks my heart like you." Despite that emotional toxicity, however, Williams sings about going back repeatedly to a relationship she knows is unhealthy ("If I survive/I'll dive back in/ … Headfirst into shallow pools"). '

On "No Friend," guest contributor Aaron Weiss seems to reference the Parable of the Sower from Mark 4:1-20 ("Another thorny field to scatter fruitless seed"), though the song repeatedly tells someone bluntly, "I'm no savior of yours/And you're no friend of mine." Weiss also describes the track as, "Another song that runs too long, god knows no one needs."

Summary Advisory

If there's one set of lyrics that sums up the overall emotional tenor of After Laughter, it's these two Eeyore-like lines from "Fake Happy": "I know that I said I was doing good and that I'm happy now/I should've known that when things are going good, that's when I get knocked down." There are a lot of moments like that on Paramore's fifth album, lines that ponder the point of persevering when we're likely just going to be disappointed by others—and by ourselves—again.

I appreciate Hayley Williams' transparency. Too often we do put on our "fake happy" faces and pretend that things are better than they really are. Those of us who are prone to do that—myself included—need to learn when and how to share the truth appropriately with people who love us.

That said, I'm not sure how much After Laughter helps listeners move in that redemptive direction. There's a lot of honesty here on Williams' part, it's true. But there's a lot of venting and wallowing in emotional muck, too. Lingering and loitering in that kind of darkness—which Williams does quite a lot here—ultimately doesn't provide a path out of it, even if it might feel momentarily cathartic for those of us with Eeyore-like tendencies.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Debuted at No. 6.

Record Label

Fueled by Ramen

Platform

Publisher

Released

May 12, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

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