After gaining a devout fanbase following the release of their still solid debut, All We Know Is Falling, Paramore took their sound to slightly more accessible heights with the punk-fueled Riot. Gone are the emo tendencies and the safe instrumentation because Riot is as sugary and upbeat as pop-punk albums get. It isn’t groundbreaking by any means but it sees the band branching out and trying to find their own sound. While not everything works (it’s still in the lower echelon of their discography for this critic) that hardly keeps it from being a powerhouse release.
The moments that do work are numerous. Opener “For a Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic” is a punchy jam that introduces a far more confident Hayley Williams at the helm. On All We Know… it was apparent that the band wasn’t all that comfortable stretching out of their comfort zone and there was a near timid feeling to the execution. On Riot, the band, and especially Williams, sound as though they have the confidence and the ambition to reach for any sound they please. As a result, they carry an angst and a musical bite that just wasn’t present before. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Misery Business,” with its spunky, rap-like verse and that explosive chorus about a popular but mean-spirited woman who tries to steal men from others. It’s a little overplayed but still a great track ten years later.
The first half of the record is fairly straightforward overall. Cuts such as “Hallelujah” and “When It Rains” even harken back to the delicate simplicity of All We Know… The second half is where Riot takes steps to reach beyond the conventional. “Let The Flames Begin” is not only the best track here, it’s one of Paramore’s most riveting songs period. It begins with a softly plucked guitar that drips with tension before exploding into an aggressive, triumphant chorus that screams, “This is how we’ll dance when / When they try to take us down / This is what we’ll be, oh glory.” “Crushcrushcrush” is yet another great hard hitter that features one of my favourite moments on the record in the grooving pre-chorus. “They taped over your mouth / Scribbled out the truth with their lies / Your little spies.” The record takes an experimental turn with the sadly underappreciated “Fences” which makes use of a bouncy, salsa style before diving right back into an infectious and heavy chorus.
Because of its more assertive character, it is fairly rough at times. There’s nothing bad here and even the weaker cuts (“That’s What You Get,” “Miracle,” and “Born For This”) have their standout moments but overall Riot is a little inconsistent quality wise. When factoring in the growing pains of a sophomore record this is hardly unexpected.
Paramore made their biggest statement with Riot. It proved that they were a band to be watched closely and for a time nearly every female-fronted punk act was trying to be them. “Here is the next Paramore” or “They sound like Paramore” became common phrases during the mid-2000s and for good reason. Paramore blew up hard. Riot launched them into the mainstream but more importantly, it possessed a distinctive quality that too many female-fronted acts lacked at the time. When you heard “Misery Business” or “That’s What You Get” you knew you were listening to Paramore and not a well-intentioned but subpar imitation. It was a mixture of dedication and ambition that made Paramore a household name and they’re qualities I wish I saw more of in music today.