Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for: Paraholics ages 14+
Caveats: Mild language in 2/12 songs, depressing themes throughout
We did a brave thing and preordered this album. The physical copy is still on its way as I write this, but literally the minute the album was released, we were sent a digital copy to enjoy in the meantime. I don’t know if this is Paramore’s kindness or Amazon’s, but I’m so grateful for it.
You could say the entire After Laughter album is “Fake Happy” (which is the fifth track on the album), as poignant lyrics about depression and loneliness are couched in deceptively upbeat melodies. It’s quite ironic, and it works with this album.
I could try to compare After Laughter to the self titled album, but one of the only things they share in common is that neither album is strictly rock. You can’t really headbang to these songs.
Visually, I knew to expect some quirky, 1960s influences a la Zac Farro’s Half-Noise solo project – I definitely saw that in their music video for “Told You So,” and I love it! Sound-wise, there’s more of a 1980s synth-pop vibe to everything, which is great because I’ve developed a taste for the real thing in recent months. Also, weirdly, all the songs make me think of the beach and the pool and tropical stuff. It’s something entirely different from everything they’ve done before, which is both frightening and refreshing.
Tracklist + commentary
1. Hard Times
This song is, I think, the most ironic and fake-happy of the setlist. The instrumentation is upbeat and personally, I find it fun to dance to when no one’s around to see me knock things over. 😛 I can see why they made it a single, although for me, it sets the bar very high for what’s to come. What I want to know is what Hayley’s whispering towards the end of the song beneath the synth solo (or whatever instrument that is).
2. Rose-Colored Boy
This song is my personal favorite. (I may just be biased though, since my name is Rose, after all.) “Low-key, no preshah! Just hang with me and mah weathah!” The lyrics are a cynical, world-weary response to advocates of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. (This song does include the phrase “pissed off,” if that concerns you.)
3. Told You So
“The best is over and the worst is yet. To. COME.” This song’s a bit more depressing instrumentally, with a very memorable bridge, “Throw me into the fire, throw me in, pull me up again.” Lyrically, it’s quite relatable for me. I’ve managed to outwit the crowd of “I told you so” naysayers for the most part, but when I don’t succeed, of course they’re there to stand over me to chant the party line. This song accurately sums up a lot of my feelings about figuring out the whole “adulting” thing, with all of its stumbling blocks.
This one makes me think of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and other songs in that style which tend to play on the grocery store stereo to keep the middle-aged shoppers comfortable. It’s a bit too slow for my liking – even though I get that this is Paramore’s new sound, when I turn on a Paramore album, I expect high-energy, upbeat stuff. I suppose I’ll learn to like this track when I’m in the mood.
5. Fake Happy
When we listened to this one, the intro made me and my folks shout, “BEATLES!” On the second listen-through, I thought it was more reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” And then it abruptly changes into something off Zac Farro’s Sudden Feeling EP, and then the chorus is a lot more old-new-Paramore-esque, with a powerful message. “Oh please, don’t ask me how I’ve been / Don’t make me play pretend / … I bet everybody here is fake happy too.”
This one reminds me of the quieter, acoustic tracks on the brand new eyes album, like “Misguided Ghosts.” And there’s definitely a lyrical reference to “Brick By Boring Brick” in the song. This is another track that I’ll have to learn to love when I’m in the mood.
Okay, I’ll be honest, this song weirds me out a bit. I like the tune, the tempo, the style, but I really wasn’t sure what to make of the lyrics. My wacky mind had me wondering if it was inappropriate. (“As if the first blood didn’t thrill enough / I went further out to see what else was left of us.”)
Another song that makes me think of Halfnoise … and the beach. If you’re prudish, this song has a swear word in it. (“Time is a bastard.”)
9. Caught In the Middle
This one is neat too – the guitar riffs are pretty memorable. For me, the musical style makes me think of Men At Work.
10. Idle Worship
This one gets a bit spiritual, in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. If I were writing this review for PluggedIn, I’d have to identify the obligatory contrived theological allegory right about now, but I’m not, so I won’t. The message I see in this song is, “Look, I’m only human – I’m not going to be your messiah or a superhero. If you must insist, I’ll give it the old college try, but know I’m guaranteed to let you down.”
11. No Friend
Now this song is utterly bizarre, and I don’t like it much. It’s a spoken word piece with lots of references to old Paramore songs, narrated by a guy from another band, and I suppose it’s the song which is rumored to have Talking Heads influences. Whomever’s reading definitely has David Byrne’s ranting-singing from tracks like “Psycho Killer” and “Once in a Lifetime” down pat, but again, I don’t like it. It’s a bit too weird for me.
12. Tell Me How
I think this song’s one of the gloomiest and gentlest in sound and lyrical content. It’s a nice “goodbye” track to ease us out of the album, slowly and gently.
What I love about this album is that it lets each of the three members’ abilities shine without crowding each other. There have been some scary personnel changes in the past seven years, to the point that Paramore was reduced to a duo in late 2015, but with three active, founding members, Paramore makes the most of its current lineup, and it sounds amazing.
Riot! is the first Paramore album I listened to, and for me, it captures a lot of the raging emotions of adolescence through the aggressive, rocking guitar riffs and Hayley Williams’ emotive vocals. (You can headbang to that album.) After Laughter, on the other hand, sheds some light on the calm veneer over the underlying uncertainty of adulthood.
Riot was also one of my first forays into “that modern garbage all my contemporaries listen to.” After Laughter draws inspiration from the sounds I limited myself to as a self-righteous, wannabe hipster-prude, but it’s a fresh new take on them. (I can only hear the same 80s hits on the radio so many times.) For me, After Laughter is the best of both worlds – modern creations drawing inspiration from classic sounds.