#12 – Paramore – Paramore [spotify]

(feat. track – “Last Hope” [spotify])

You know how, sometimes, an album is made up of so many great tracks that, on first listen, none of them really stand out, and so you make the mistake of thinking the record is just kind of average? That’s how I felt about Paramore at first.

It’s like mistaking a plateau for a plain – it’s hard to see the difference when you’re looking downward. Only when you spot external reference points, when you gain context, does which one you’re dealing with suddenly become apparent. Paramore has so many peaks – that electrifying moment when the Hayley Williams suddenly finds herself surrounded by a gospel choir in the coda of “Ain’t It Fun”; Ilan Rubin’s accelerating drum fills as “Part II” builds to its roaring apex; the gorgeous, Jimmy Eat World-esque wave of chimes and strings (arranged by Roger Joseph Manning Jr., natch!)  that washes through “Hate To See Your Heart Break”’s outro; the moment following the false ending where “Future” comes galumphing back in a sludgy wash of overtone-punctuated fuzz* – that it almost begins to feel like level ground. It was only after many months of listening to it in between other albums; of hearing its singles on late night TV, at the gym, on PAs between sets at shows, on PAs between shoe stores at the mall, seemly everywhere; of twice bearing witness to the strongest iteration of the band yet perform most of its tracks live, masterfully; and most of all, of seeing how deeply it effected some of my friends and peers and inspirations, that I really began to realize just how high Paramore towers over the pop landscape.

Part of my slow uptake is due to what I see as a small flaw in the album itself – at 17 tracks** totaling 64 minutes, it’s overstuffed, to the point where songs start to blend together. Some self-editing would have made for a release with a little more punching power, though even as I write that, I have a hard time figuring out what exactly should be cut. Perhaps the band saw the same dilemma I did; turning a few of these tracks into B sides would have been the move to make, but there’s really no B material here. Regardless, it’s ultimately an issue of digestibility, not quality, and Paramore is the sort of album that really merits (and rewards!) being chewed on for a while.

And really, that’s the worst flaw I can come up with for Paramore – the sort of flaw that lands an album at the back-end of a Top Ten Twelve instead of the front-end, but no worse. With what are easily Hayley Williams’ strongest set of lyrics to date, Paramore is a marvel of emotional maturity, a grown-up record full of grown-up feelings and grown-up ways of dealing with them.*** It’s sonically diverse yet remarkably consistent, catchy and unpredictable all at once, inspiring, enthralling and endearing. It’s easily the best album Paramore have released to date. I’m glad that, though it didn’t click at first, I still found a little something that dug in – just a spark, but enough to keep me going. I’m glad I let it happen.

*Though you’d have a hard time coming up with two more different bands, I’d love to play “Future” to everyone who loved Deafheaven’s Sunbather this year just to see what they’d think of it.

**Granted, three of those tracks are short ukulele-centric “Interlude”s, but that name is a bit of a misnomer – they’re all standalone songs, and while they take a different sonic tack to the rest of Paramore, they’re not mere snippets, nor breaks from the action. “Moving On” and “I’m Not Angry Anymore”, in particular, are two of the strongest songs here from a songwriting standpoint, and they’re absolutely crucial to the album; they’re the pivots on which the rest revolves.

***This for a band that had supposedly already made their “mature” album with 2009’s Brand New Eyes; listening to the two back to back, that album sounds positively adolescent in comparison.