On the 2017 record “After Laughter,” Paramore extended across acres of vivacious, ’80s-infused rock set to sarcastic yet blithe humor. Its fervor and sonic enthusiasm elevated to new levels, with “Hard Times” featuring on the radio and the entire LP topping the charts. But in the half-decade hiatus between this idealistic era and the band’s latest album, the world around Paramore shifted, compelling its artistry to do the same.
Born out of the COVID-19 era, a time rife with solitude and existential dread, This Is Why is fueled with nihilistic realism instead of rose-tinted romanticism. Lead vocalist Hayley Williams screams of self-doubt, shredding all satisfaction and substituting it with unease. Meanwhile, Zac Farro and Taylor York bounce with the heated strums of electric bass — their chords set the scene for tales of anxieties and intense mental battles.
Underneath this hard exterior, however, lies an earnest heart. While Williams does write about the traumas of her mental health, her classic brand of inflected vocals and conversational tone still soothes listeners. And Farro constructs an ambience of cinematic warmth, his instrumentations lending themselves to sounds fit for an acclaimed movie. Along the same vein, York encases the radiance and humor of his bandmates with lush acoustics, balancing out the record. With This Is Why, Paramore does not abandon its old sound, but rather evolves with contemporary times and infuses the unfiltered disorder of 2023 with the acute emotions of its earlier albums.
As the titular lead single, “This Is Why” warmly welcomes familiar fans and critics into Paramore’s new tortured world. Bolstered by fragments of hushed drums and bursts of serene bass, Paramore sets the stage for the first chorus to slap listeners in the face. Humming about the unwanted convictions of others, Williams acts rather tame about her assertive demands. Accompanied by cascading drums, the band members throw themselves into the chorus, and Williams sheds her timid facade. She screams about her refusal to listen to the mindless criticism of others — an intense emblem for the hatred she endures as an artist.
“Running Out of Time” furthers this narrative of relentless reflection, but sees the band turn the mirror inward. With extracts relatable to all, Williams starts to list off the flowers she never delivered to her friends and the cards abandoned in her mailbox. Her memories serve as common tales for the absentminded and distracted, moments of meditation essential to her adulthood. As the chorus builds, however, she cuts even deeper into her insecurities, for fear she could be selfish with no concern. These instances of incessant criticism illuminate the true isolation at the center of this record — all one needs to do is tune out her sarcasm.
Nevertheless, the band sometimes fumbles with confessions hidden amid humor. On the self-referential “Figure 8,” the band recounts its moral dilemmas as adults and draws distinctions between evil and ethical behavior. Sure, this thesis endorses the same themes as the rest of the album, but where this one fails is the chorus. Williams shouts lines of emotive value while the melodies feel hollow, an issue that also arises in the earlier tune, “You First.”
Paramore refines these minimal flaws before the last three ballads on the album, some of the best in its entire career. Williams stretches herself outward as a writer and encases saccharine moments in her life with mature warmth and affection. On “Thick Skull,” the first track written for the record, she constructs the poignant and haunting skeleton in which this album exists. Thrusting with urgent bass and feverish drums, the tune drones into a sea of shoegazey self-hatred, as the bridge rings with the line: “I’m comin’ out with my hands up, mm/ Come on out with your hands up.”
Unlike any other Paramore album, This is Why sees Williams envision herself as the criminal. She refuses to remove herself and her emotions from the context of this LP, which is perhaps what makes it so sonically and lyrically rich. Here, Paramore does not turn to ’80s influences to hide its traumas, nor does it dramatize its adolescence with rock anthems. This Is Why leaves the band bare in the face of criticism, an invitation for its harshest detractors to come and bite.