When choosing to listen to a band for the first time, where should you begin? It’s a question I’ve found myself asking on many occasions and the safest answer is usually their most commercially successful record. But the question can have a myriad of answers depending on who is asking. You may want to start right at the debut and work your way up, gradually getting to know the band through each record. Maybe their most popular record isn’t in a style you find yourself gravitating towards and you think you may have a better chance of liking something on their later projects.
When it came to Paramore I didn’t have such a privilege when I discovered them. Backtrack three years ago I was browsing the CD aisle of a massive second-hand book festival we have down here in Australia when I saw the turquoise spine of Paramore’s Brand New Eyes. The only record I knew from them at the time was Riot and that was by name only. Since it was only $2.50 and in great condition, I picked it up expecting a good to average pop/rock album. What I wasn’t expecting to hear was one of the best pop/rock records my young ears had ever heard. While it wasn’t as commercially popular as Riot, Brand New Eyes took the band’s sound further than it had ever been, and in some ways, would ever go. And in the end, as subjective as the aforementioned question can be, I believe the best answer is always the record that shouts the band’s name the loudest.
It’s no coincidence that one of my favourite records just so happens to be produced by Rob Cavallo (the man who produced American Idiot and The Black Parade). Everything that made Riot as good as it was formed the musical heart of this record. In addition to their no-holds-barred approach, the record was also a revealing look into the turmoils the band were experiencing at that time. As a result, the lyrics are drenched with sarcasm and bitter remarks. “Ignorance” is the most notable example of Paramore’s angrier side. With its belting riffs and untamable energy, Hayley snarls “If I’m a bad person, you don’t like me / Well, I guess I’ll make my own way / It’s a circle, a mean cycle / I can’t excite you anymore / Where’s your gavel? Your jury? / What’s my offence this time? / You’re not a judge but if you’re gonna judge me / Well sentence me to another life.” Taking a more religious angle, “Playing God” is another biting pop/punk highlight condemning self-importance and purity. “If God’s the game that you’re playing / Well, we must get more acquainted / Because it has to be so lonely / To be the only one who’s holy.”
Brand New Eyes is perfect front to back but “Brick By Boring Brick” and “Turn It Off” are among my favourite songs of all time. The former is a dreamy yet dark anthem about creating a personal fantasy to avoid having to face the real world. “You built up a world of magic / Because your real life is tragic.” The chorus is mesmerizing but at the same time retains that aggressive spine the record is built on. “Turn It Off” is yet another track I keep close to my heart as it acknowledges that things always get worse before they get better and that, rather than getting caught up in our pride, it’s better to hit the bottom so we can change and become better as a result. “And the worst part is / Before it gets any better / We’re headed for a cliff / And in the free fall I will realize / I’m better off when I hit the bottom.”
Following the album’s biggest single, “The Only Exception,” (a nostalgic favourite of mine) the record delves into three succinct and infectious pop/punk jams until it slows right down for the stripped back “Misguided Ghosts.” This is the first time Paramore has written a strictly acoustic track and the results are nothing short of beautiful. Brand New Eyes then closes with its most stunning track, “All I Wanted.” Hayley’s vocals reach breathtaking heights and all the bitterness, resentment, sarcasm, and anger falls away as she cries “All I wanted was you.” It’s a sublime masterpiece and easily one of Paramore’s best overall songs.
Brand New Eyes isn’t overly experimental or progressive but an album doesn’t need to be to be considered a masterpiece. Brand New Eyes was one of the few records that brought a band’s sound to its ultimate conclusion. It managed to perfect everything Paramore had established beforehand and I’m honestly glad they parted ways with this sound on future releases. Because they explored a pop direction later on it left Brand New Eyes to stand as the definitive record of this chapter of their career. There’s no risk of making a bad record in this vein and thereby leaving this one in an awkward position. This closes their pop/punk days in the most satisfying way possible and I will forever look back on it as a highlight of my teenage years. In fact, I still proudly display that worn copy on my shelf.