Paramore is a breakup album. But not the kind you might think.
The breakup in question here isn't the romantic kind. Instead, song after song references the acrimonious departure of two of the band's founding members in 2010, brothers Josh and Zac Farro—a split that involved them accusing lead singer Hayley Williams of compromising her Christian faith in some of the lyrics on the band's 2009 album brand new eyes (a subject I wrote about in detail in Plugged In's track review for lead single "Now").
Paramore, then, represents a phoenix-like resuscitation for the band. But it didn't come without some serious soul-searching, if the raw, anguished, cathartic (and sometimes sarcastic) lyrics here are to be taken at face value.
The thematic DNA for Paramore is laid out in the first track, "Fast in My Car," on which Williams confesses that the Farros' departure was wrenching ("Been through the wringer a couple of times"), even as she says the band is facing forward ("But now we aren't looking backward/ … We only see what's in front of us/We only see straight ahead"). She's equal parts playful ("We got our riot gear on, but we just want to have fun") and reflective ("No one's the same as they used to be/Much as we try to pretend/No one's as innocent as can be/We all fall short, we all sin"). The struggle the band endured has taken a toll ("Hollowed out and filled up with hate") even as Paramore strives to adopt something like a "live and let live" policy ("All we want is you to give us a break").
"Part II" delivers the album's most poignant moment: "What a shame, what a shame we all remain such fragile, broken things/A beauty has betrayed/Butterflies with punctured wings." What follows is a prayer for renewal, for a second chance, and for forgiveness. Williams sings, "Oh glory/Come and find me, oh glory/ … Dancing all alone to the sound of an enemy's song/I'll be lost until you find me/ … What a mess, what a mystery we've made/Love and other simple things/Learning to forgive, even when it wasn't our mistake." The song concludes with what seems a positive affirmation of faith: "Like the moon, we borrow our light/I am nothing but a shadow in the night/And if You let me, I will catch fire/To let Your glory and mercy shine." Those themes, albeit without the spiritual component, turn up on "Last Hope" as well, where we hear about dreams, change and sparks of hope being kindled into fire again.
"Now" voices the band's determination to move forward ("Lost the battle, win the war/ … There's a time and place to die, but this ain't it"). Similarly, "Grow Up" affirms, "I got a love I would die for and a song to sing/Maybe we're both just living out our dream." Williams says she has a "light that won't go out," no matter how many tears she has to cry. Looking forward to a better future is also the subject of "Daydreams.
Meanwhile, "Hate to See Your Heart Break" reflects (somewhat graphically) upon the heartrending reality of betrayal ("There is not a single word in the whole world/That could describe the hurt/The dullest knife just sawing back and forth/And ripping through the softest skin there ever was") before admitting that life and love aren't easy, and that hope and healing are still possible ("Just let the pain remind you hearts can heal").
"Still Into You" is a sweet love song about love flourishing over the long haul. We hear, "It's not a walk in the park to love each other/But when our fingers interlock/Can't deny, can't deny that you're worth it/'Cause after all this time, I'm still into you." More of those sentiments show up on "Proof," where a woman says, "My heart is bigger/Than the distance between us."
"Anklebiters" exhorts us to keep believing in ourselves when meanspirited critics nip at our heels. "Future" focuses on realizing dreams and not letting the past keep you from pursuing them.
On "(One of Those) Crazy Girls," a clingy young woman implies she'd sleep with a boyfriend who's leaving her to save the relationship: "Why are you tellin' me good-bye?/Aren't you gonna stay the night?" As the song progresses, it becomes obvious she isn't just desperate, but that she's actually closer to being a "crazy" stalker. "I'm gonna call a hundred times," she threatens. "And now I'm standing at your doorstep/ … If you don't answer, I'll just use the key/That I copied 'cause I really need to see you." Clearly, she's unbalanced, but even that context doesn't mitigate the couple's physical relationship. Ambiguous lyrics on "Be Alone" say, "You should be alone/Yeah, you should be alone with me/We could be alone/ … But never get too lonely."
"Grow Up" bristles with attitude as Williams vents, "I told 'em all to stick it." "Interlude: Moving On" finds Williams delivering this vindictive-sounding zinger: "Let 'em have their fun/Let 'em spill their guts/'Cause one day they're gonna slip on 'em." "Fast in My Car" includes a reference to, obviously, "driving fast in my car," along with Williams' admission that going through the emotional wringer left her "callous and cruel."
Listening to the 17 songs on Paramore's massive, 64-minute self-titled fourth effort, several things are clear:
First, the departure of the Farro brothers devastated Hayley Williams (along with remaining band members Jeremy Davis and Taylor York). The first eight songs address that event. So it's half way through the album before you get any sort of sense that Paramore has dealt with the subject sufficiently to begin venturing into other territory, like, say, a love song.
Second, despite some bitter sarcasm here and there, Paramore is moving on. Williams repeatedly tells us she's not angry. Pain lingers, but there's renewed hope as the band gets back on its collective feet.
Third, the group's rebirth comes with a renewed sense of musical adventure. Williams and her bandmates indulge their pop side here, pairing Paramore's established arena-punk anthems will all manner of surprisingly synthy flourishes.
Finally, "Part II" sends a message that the band's faith—which Williams has talked a lot about in the past—does indeed still matter.
Even with all the angst and the processed bitterness and the "Crazy Girls" factored in, then, that makes Paramore Paramore's most mature and engaging effort yet.