Who’d be Paramore’s Hayley Williams? Back since the days when puddles of critical drool were wont to collect at the feet of Debbie Harry, lone women in bands have never had it easy. If they’re not being derided for a supposed lack of musical ability, leading them to cling onto the coattails of their backing boys, they’re being judged on an examination of their aesthetic appeal to the exclusion of anything more relevant.
With the mainstream rock press seeming to pay more attention to William’s frequent topping of ‘Sexiest Female’ readers’ polls than to the clutch of other awards Paramore have secured, it’s unsurprising that she was recently moved to argue that Paramore should be seen as more than “this girl-fronted band”. For some potential listeners, Paramore may also be tainted by association with multimedia phenomenon Twilight (‘Decode’, included here as a bonus track, was released last year in conjunction with the novel-based film). All in all, it seems plausible to treat their new album’s title as a plea for listeners to take a fresh look at the band solely on the merits of its music.
It’s ironic that the media focus on Williams has reportedly caused the band such grief, since her vocal presence is perhaps the thing which does most to set Paramore apart from other contenders. Over the course of three albums, her delivery has become mature, strong and smoothly, fluidly melodic, skirting self-righteousness while avoiding the bratty foot-stamping common to the litter of other pop-punkettes to whom she is often compared. (‘All I Wanted’ features a vocal blast that is no less impressive for the spectre of Evanescence it raises.) Lyrically, too, Paramore are perhaps surprisingly clear-eyed and engaging: we get the deconstruction of fairytale romance on ‘Brick by Boring Brick’; unapologetic escape from smalltown frustration on ‘Feeling Sorry’; and self-conscious meta-narrative on ‘Looking Up’.
In terms of style, they sit precariously at the point where the upper echelons of emo mesh with the lower depths of bubblegum-punk. The album kicks off at a breakneck pace, the opening of ‘Careful’ erupting out of a portentous backwash of beats, before we encounter the machine-gun rattle of lead single ‘Ignorance’. Then, having caught its breath for the angst-pop of ‘Playing God’, the rest of the album divides itself between the full-throated, fast and frenetic (‘Looking Up’, ‘Where The Lines Overlap’), and yearning or reflective slowies that veer dangerously close to power ballad territory (‘Misguided Ghosts’, ‘The Only Exception’).
Ultimately, while brand new eyes makes Paramore’s case for being taken seriously as a competent musical outfit, on the same evidence it is difficult to discern much greater depth to the band. The music here comes perfectly served in bite-sized chunks, making it easy to digest but difficult to get one’s teeth into. While undeniably heartfelt and delivered with power and precision, too many songs here suffer from an overly glossy and slick production which makes them slip down easily but without much impact, leaving the listener with little appetite for more of the same.
[Fueled By Ramen; September 28, 2009]