On ‘This Is Why,’ Paramore sound like the band they’ve always wanted to be (review)
Hayley Williams has said on multiple occasions that Paramore never intended to become just a pop punk/emo band. They had so many other influences early on, but that's the scene they got grouped with at the time, and probably due to various factors, it's the direction they went in and it's what many people still know them best for. But even after mainstream interest in pop punk and emo died down, Paramore weathered a changing music industry, multiple lineup changes, side projects, and various stylistic departures. Their 2017 album After Laughter was a sharp, new wave-inspired album with almost no hints of pop punk at all, and it was hailed as a comeback (not that Paramore ever really went anywhere), affirming Paramore as a band that was just as relevant in the mid/late 2010s musical landscape as they were in the mid/late 2000s. That was now six years ago, and since then Hayley released two solo albums that departed even further from Paramore's roots, but now Paramore are back and they sound like the band they truly always wanted to be.
The well-executed departure made on After Laughter clearly informs the direction of This Is Why, but they also bring back the loud guitars and sneered angst of classic Paramore, and they go in a handful of new directions too. This Is Why is the sound of Paramore reconnecting with their former selves, but still embracing who they've become in the 18 years since their debut LP. It feels like a culmination of everything they've done, as well as an evolution. At times, it also feels like Paramore going back to the very beginning and starting over; Hayley has spoken multiple times about the influence that Bloc Party--who Paramore are taking out on tour this year--have had on this album, and their twitchy dance-punk is all over this record. Songs like "The News," "Running Out of Time," and "C'est Comme Ca" suggest an alternate version of the mid 2000s where Paramore followed in the footsteps of "Banquet" instead of their Fueled by Ramen labelmates and fellow Warped Tourers, and Paramore pull this off in 2023 without sounding out of step, outdated, or like they're pining for a past era of guitar music.
With two of those dance-punky songs being released as singles, and Bloc Party's influence on the album making headlines even before the album and the tour were officially announced, that narrative has been following this album around for months, but the dance-punk revival is really just the tip of This Is Why's iceberg. In fact, Paramore spend a large portion of This Is Why exploring their slower, more atmospheric side. The album's mid-section finds them settling into a mid-tempo groove; songs like "You First" and "Figure 8" flirt with percussive post-punk guitar stabs, but in a way that's a little more serene than danceable shoutalongs like "The News." The final three songs are ballads, and Paramore's ballad game feels stronger than ever; you can really feel the impact of Hayley's more ethereal solo material on these. The biggest impact that Hayley taking the time to go solo had on This Is Why, though, is that this album really sounds like the chemistry of Paramore is back in full force. Both of Paramore's other core members (guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro) contributed to her solo material, as did This Is Why producer Carlos de la Garza, but even if the personnel looks similar on paper, This Is Why is clearly a Band Record. Hayley's vocal performances are as strong and unique as ever; Zac Farro remains the band's beating heart, whether it's the Can-like percussion on the title track, the driving backbone of "The News" and "C'est Comme Ca," or the nifty rhythms of "Figure 8"; and Taylor York stands out more on this album than he ever has, with an arsenal of riffs that are as attention-grabbing as Hayley's hooks.
This Is Why isn't really an "emo" album (though, as Hayley argues on her awesome radio show, everything is emo), but it's hard not to notice that it arrives during a moment in which emo nostalgia is at an all-time high, and that's due in large part to Paramore themselves. But Paramore are not here to relive the days when we were young, days that--as Hayley recently discussed at length--were not always so great if you were a young woman, a person of color, or a queer person. Likewise, the themes on This Is Why never call back to the days when misogyny in emo was so commonplace that even Paramore were driven to write lyrics they now regret. This Is Why is an album for the present day. It's an album that addresses the cruelty expressed on social media, the dreadful news cycle, the general rollercoaster we've all been on for most of the 2020s, and the mental health deterioration that's become widespread as a result of all of this. Like After Laughter, it's a very fun album to listen and sing and dance to, but it's not a happy album. Hayley's been going through some shit, you've probably been going through some shit too, and This Is Why is exactly the kind of album we need to give ourselves even a momentary escape from the madness.
This Is Why is out now via Atlantic. Pick up a vinyl copy here and stream it and watch some videos below. Catch Paramore on tour, including NYC's Madison Square Garden on May 30 & 31 with Bloc Party and Genesis Owusu, and at Atlantic City's Adjacent Festival with blink-182, Turnstile, Japanese Breakfast, and more.