Paramore's New Album: What We Do (And Don't) Want to Hear

Hayley Williams performs in 2015
Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

Hayley Williams performs at Hangout Music Festival on May 15, 2015 in Gulf Shores, Ala.

The pop game is built for the solo star, but we still need Paramore to teach us how to get along.

Paramore’s last album arrived in April 2013 -- a self-titled, 17-track effort forged from the exodus of longtime band members. Fast-forward to the present and the band finds itself in a similar situation.

Frontwoman Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and… collaborators (we’ll get to that) are in the studio working on Paramore album number five, following up the album cycle that saw the band’s biggest Hot 100 hit yet. Back in March -- on the eve of the second Parahoy! Cruise -- news broke that longtime bassist Jeremy Davis (who departed three months earlier) was not only quitting, but involved in a legal dispute with Paramore. Paramore arrived after the departure of charter members Josh and Zac Farro, but wait -- is Zac back for another go-around? 

“This past year has been a year that for me, I never want to relive again.” 

That was Williams onstage at Parahoy! still the band’s most recent public performance. Triumphing with the self-titled record in the wake of the Farro dispute seemed like a resolution to Paramore’s midlife crisis; instead, here we go again -- Davis left the band over dissatisfaction with his earnings (Williams is the only member signed to Paramore's label, Atlantic Records). But what is it they say about doors closing and windows opening? Williams and York have been hanging with Zac Farro lately, and though there’s absolutely no confirmation the old drummer is playing on the record, these things are usually shared on a band’s official social media accounts for a reason. 

The reason could just be showing off some solid Chinese takeout, so we’ll have to wait and see. Session superstar Ilan Rubin drummed on Paramore and though Underoath’s Aaron Gillespie has been their live drummer for several years, he’s clarified that it’s only a live gig. If Zac is back with Paramore in some capacity, it’s a sharp left turn from the conditions in which Farros departed, with Josh calling the band a “manufactured product of a major label” in 2010. Worth noting: the guitarist told Billboard last November that “everything is cool” with his former bandmates, following a healing process that had taken significant time. And while we’re at it with familiar faces, the long-haired fellow is Justin Meldal-Johnsen; he co-produced Paramore alongside York. 

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Paramore’s evolved but it’s never reinvented itself, something that figures to hold steady if Meldal-Johnsen is indeed producing. Now three years old, Paramore holds strong as the band’s strongest album, and it’s not because of its singles. The choruses of “Still Into You” and “Now” smack you upside the head, but this is nothing Paramore hadn’t already perfected. The lasting greatness of this album lies in its moody nuances -- “Part II” launching into an icy, skyward solo just when you think it’s going to flicker away, the luminous two minutes “Last Hope” spends painting a guitar-synth sunset before its first chorus, the simplicity of Williams singing about drinking coffee and reading the paper while strumming a ukulele. Every song -- every studio song -- Paramore released before that album clocked in between three and four-and-a-half minutes. Good as it was, Paramore was a band that needed some loosening up, and a 17-track album with three bite-sized ukulele interludes and an eight-minute closer with a fake-out ending was just what it needed. 

That being said, so much has changed with Paramore in the past few years that we don’t need complete sonic upheaval. Back to their biggest hit, “Ain’t It Fun” -- it's not quite the guitar-fueled frenzy most of their best known songs are, with its playful xylophone riff and Killers-indebted gospel choir. Look around the Top 40 and alternative radio -- the two formats that've supported Paramore the most -- and you'll see this as part of a larger, obvious trend. Alternative (and the alternative that manages to jump into the mainstream) relies less and less on electric guitar and more on keys, synths, group chants and acoustic, folksy hoedown throwdowns. You can probably find room for xylophones and choirs on that spectrum, too. But unlike the myriad flash-in-the-pans, Paramore has decade-long staying power. They're one of the few artists that can push a crowd-pleasing rock song like "Still Into You" or "Misery Business" into the Top 40. It doesn't have to be about holding onto tradition or being a dreaded "rockist"; Paramore is one of increasingly few artists that can inject pop with this kind of variety. 

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The self-titled album opened with one of those crowd-pleasing rockers. In the first stanza of "Fast In My Car," Williams proclaims she and her two friends -- Davis and York -- "went through the ringer a couple times" but came out tougher and wiser. That trio's down to two, and Paramore fans will again look to Williams as a source of strength. She'd be smart to speak frankly about her stormy year, especially in lyrics with the same starkness as her past accounts of coffee drinking and newspaper reading. Paramore fans have been eager to point out that duos are still bands since the Davis departure, and Williams' career-long struggle to keep the family together is one that a lot of frontpeople could learn from. The pop game is built for the solo star, but we still need Paramore to teach us how to get along.