How should a band change? How should they evolve without alienating their fanbase? Any band should ask themselves this but we critics also wrestle with this question whenever we go to review an album by a respectably popular artist that turns their established sound on its head. Should we praise it for trying something different even though many will undoubtedly long for their earlier sound or should we criticize it for straying too far from their identity? Pop/punk outfit, Relient K, broke away from their sound with 2013’s widely polarizing Collapsable Lung. It was a record that dipped into the shallow end of mainstream pop and it left many with a sour taste. Fast forward three years and the same band released what was arguably a much better attempt to evolve with Air For Free.
So why was Air For Free hailed as one of the band’s best offerings while Collapsable Lung was shunned? I believe there’s a fine line between retaining a certain style and experimenting with others. Air For Free was, in essence, another pop record, yet in many respects, it sounded like a genuine Relient K offering. It experimented with and around the band’s foundational style as opposed to abandoning it like its predecessor had.
This was the approach Paramore took with their long-awaited follow-up to Brand New Eyes. Paramore’s self-titled record (hereafter known as Paramore), like Air For Free, wasn’t welcomed by all at first, but those who were willing to give it a chance often found themselves growing to love it as much as their past efforts.
Although Paramore is still a pop/rock record its skeleton is made up of poppier sounds and an overall softer tone. There are no tracks like “Ignorance” or “Crushcrushcrush” here. What we hear is the attitude and energy of Riot mixed with creative and versatile instrumentation. Opener “Fast In My Car,” for example, employs the electric guitar with a groove as opposed to a bite. “Now” and “Anklebiters” are the closest examples of actual rock songs and even they are permeated with a pop sheen. That’s not to say they are bad, on the contrary, they are some of Paramore’s most infectious numbers. And overall, that’s where Paramore shines brighter than any of their past releases. This album is just so dang catchy.
The highlights come in spades. “Grow Up” is a funky jam that voices the words I’m sure many of us wish we could say at some point. “Some of us have to grow up sometimes / And so if I have to I’m gonna leave you behind.” “Daydreaming” is a sweeping, euphoric ballad with a mesmerizing chorus. “Part II” is a fiery, dark anthem that acts as the sequel to the brilliant “Let The Flames Begin” from Riot and is just as strong a song. The dreamy, optimistic “Last Hope,” along with “Hate To See Your Heart Break” and the beautifully epic “Future,” are some of the Paramore’s softest offerings and they’re all equally fantastic.
Ironically enough Paramore’s strongest moments are where it fully commits to its unique style. “Still Into You” is bubbly pop brilliance. It’s near impossible to resist dancing to this in some way and it’s even harder to hold back a smile. “Proof” is irresistible in every way and coming off the heels of “Still Into You” and the punk-infused “Anklebiters” only makes it that much better. “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” is a somewhat slower burn yet it is as fun as anything before it.
So is Paramore another masterpiece? When the only slight problem is the interludes which, with the exception of “Holiday,” don’t leave much of an impression (and even they aren’t bad) I’m inclined to say yes. There is not a single moment here that I don’ love to pieces and everything works incredibly well as a whole. I’ve always got something off of this in the rotation and that isn’t changing anytime soon.