Paramore, the band with the hot-headed burning flame, is giving the fuel to their fire some attention. Behind all of their energy and seemingly never-ending power were people lives just like we are, full of good and bad moments. At some point in their crazy lives, it all caught up to them, and the realization of all of that is what their new album is about. Paramore face their dark reality with tragic optimism in After Laughter, the band's fifth record.
As lead singer Hayley Williams described, After Laughter is about that feeling people have after they are done laughing. The moment when the magic of togetherness has dissipated and you're just left there, thinking of any way to bring it back. Paramore takes this concept and amplifies it, but not in the way you'd expect. They take an approach similar to The Cure, masking all of their depression and worries in a positive tone, making the messages feel even sadder. The band essentially smile through the pain throughout the record.
This premise is the topic of 'Fake Happy,' the song that really feels like the center point of the album. The song's lo-fi intro begins softly as a warm guitar lies under Williams' susceptible voice, singing "And I bet everybody here / Is just as insincere / We're all so fake happy / And I know fake happy." This song is one fun build, the synth intro kicking in with a punchy flair, the quiet verse following it acting as a precursor to the anthem that the song builds into. The choruses burst with an optimistic plea: "Oh please, don't ask me how I've been / Don't make me play pretend." 'Fake Happy' acknowledges that everyone's always hiding emotions under them, and even if she hates the phoniness she can't help but feel the same way. Everybody is 'Fake Happy' whether they admit it or not.
There's a lot more of the "hiding behind something you're not" message on the record, usually tying in with themes of depression. 'Idle Worship' takes a look at Paramore's fame, and the disconnect between fans' perceptions of them (their "idols") and their actual lives behind the scenes. Williams addresses it in the chorus, quickly admitting "I'm not your superhuman," taking a somber turn when she cheerful recalls "Now I got you hoping that I'm gonna be the one to let you down." The song 'Forgiveness' follows a similar sentiment, discussing how people expect more back from you than they would offer themselves, regardless of the scenario. 'Told You So' gives causation for some of the depression the album discusses, addressing the people who look to call you out on every mistake you make.
When you hear the cheerful synths of 'Hard Times,' the first thing you think probably isn't depression. But that is exactly what the song addresses, the words that follow its 80s rock vibe telling the story of Hayley Williams' depression she faced in 2016. She dauntingly chants "Hard times, gonna make you wonder why you even try / Hard times, gonna take you down and laugh when you cry / These lives and I still don't know how I even survive" in the chorus, asking how she continues through these seemingly endless tough moments. Last track 'Tell Me How' brings this to an existential plane, the hauntingly beautiful piano track questioning what to feel once someone leaves this world. Do we forget? Do we forgive? Do we assign blame? These are all questions we all ask when we are faced with such a scenario, but we can never quite reach an answer.
One solution that 'Tell Me How' does offer, however, is to hold on to the dear memories. After Laughter isn't just an album about darkness. There are sweet moments that have an overall positive message to them, as well, such as 'Caught In The Middle,' its easygoing sound adding to the song's character as it chants about putting life behind you. '26' shares a similar message about not losing hope, only with orchestras backing it. The song is like a spiritual successor to Brand New Eyes track 'Brick By Boring Brick,' Hayley now being the subject she sang about in 'Brick.' 'Rose-Colored Boy' is a sweet track, but is still laced in sadness. It's about the sadness that comes with missing someone and the hope that the sweet memories will come back soon.
A discussion of After Laughter cannot be complete without noting the album's tonal change from Paramore's previous music. It's definitely not an album to headbang to, taking away that aspect of Paramore's past, but a the same time, it fits right at home in their discography given its message. Paramore never let their songs go without meaning, and more often than not they had something to be sad about. The only real difference now is that they're looking on the sad moments with a crushing optimism instead of frowning upon them. In fact, many songs on this record reference topics from older songs, highlighting human discourse and how the band has become the very ideas they once sang of with only theoretical images in mind (this is especially true of 'No Friends,' which drops the most references). The softer structure gives a much more vulnerable feel to the record that empowers its meaning, which in the end is the right choice to make here.
Paramore face their dark reality with tragic optimism in After Laughter, the record about longing for the good times to return. The sadness is masked by this sad hope that they will be over, but it's never quite certain if they actually will be. What can be certain is that as long as we hold on to our dearest memories, they will return to us one day. Until then, we'll have this album to be sad with on our darkest days.
Favorite Tracks: Fake Happy, Tell Me How, Hard Times, Idle Worship
Least Favorite Track: No Friends
Rating: 93 / 100
Buy or listen to After Laughter here: