“It’s been 5.5 years since we released our last album. What did we miss?”
To answer the question Paramore posed on Feb. 9, the night before the release of their newest album: a lot. Since May 2017, when the band last dropped a full-length project, the world has certainly experienced some hardship—and so has Paramore. The album’s liner notes list several intense, oddly specific emotions (e.g. “Disbelief At The Inconsistencies of The American-English Language”) with the promise that if you have experienced any of them in the last few years, the album is for you. This Is Why (2023) is the explosive yet polished result of six years’ worth of pent-up emotion.
The rock group—made up of vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro—may have kept themselves busy during their hiatus, but they were never quite out of the spotlight. With a slew of individual projects from its members and a sharp resurgence of pop-punk among Gen-Z artists, the band’s relevance never dwindled. So they were greeted with open arms and high hopes by loyal and new fans alike when they announced their return with cover art for an upcoming album. The art puts this trio front and center, comically smushed up against our screens. This pressure—both literal and metaphorical—translates directly into the music from the album’s first song.
The titular track is placed right at the start with a strong message for its listeners. With soft vocals but blunt lyrics, Williams opens “This Is Why” with a warning for her expectant audience: “If you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it.” We quickly realize the song isn’t meant to ease listeners back into Paramore’s world, nor apologize for their disappearance. Instead, it’s a reminder of their defiant decision to take a break.
The song works on multiple levels: It’s relatable for listeners, yet deeply personal to its artists. People can connect with it as an anthem highlighting pandemic life with lyrics like “This is why I don’t leave the house / You say the coast is clear but you won’t catch me out.” The song also expresses emotions felt by a band that’s shaped the pop-rock world for nearly 20 years. Within that time, the group has faced its fair share of problems: sexist scrutiny towards the band’s frontwoman; criticism for shifts in its sound, which ranges from grunge to ’80s synth-pop; even internal disagreements resulting in changes in the band’s lineup (This Is Why represents their first album to feature the same lineup as its predecessor, following years of bandmate turnover). But after a six-year break, they’ve found the confidence to sing to the world, “You’re either with us or you can keep it to yourself.”
If we consider the album’s opening message of shutting out the world to be its thesis, then the rest of the tracks unfold the reasoning behind it. Why exactly won’t Paramore leave the house? Tracks like “The News” and “Running Out of Time” continue the opener’s theme of exhaustion with the outside world, while also detailing the self-loathing and detachment it induces. With hard-hitting drums and harsh guitars, “The News” encapsulates the helplessness of witnessing the world’s horrors through a screen. Feeling useless because she can only contribute from her home, Williams expresses “a war behind her mind”; the song attempts to convey that same jarring feeling. It’s relentless in the best way, with its screeching chorus underscoring that you can “shut your eyes but it won’t go away.” If each listen makes you feel like bashing your head against the wall, then its mission is accomplished.
However, toward the album’s midpoint, the focus shifts from examining one’s own shortcomings to pointing out others’ faults. In “Big Man, Little Dignity,” Williams diminishes the power of a charming but dishonest man—a figure symbolic of powerful white men who evade accountability. Williams knows that while he manages to outrun the consequences of his actions, the “Big Man” is a “smooth operator in a shit-stained suit.” The harshness of her words is balanced with sarcasm, giving the song a relaxed feel. Meanwhile, “You First” takes an angsty approach as the upbeat song unpacks the dilemma of acknowledging your faults but still taking the time to call out others’. Williams is aware that “karma’s going to come for all of us” but still hopes it “comes for you first.”
The tension that comes from this dichotomy of internal and external blame seeps into the album’s production. From raging punk-rock to reserved acoustics, the styles vary widely from track to track. But the album’s instrumentation remains precise, creating the band’s most mature sound. With York’s simple guitar melodies and Farro’s sharp drumming, the general ethos seems to be that less is more, creating several moments of earworm material. Fan-favorite “Figure 8” is the height of the album’s production prowess. The repetitive synth arpeggio at its center carries a sense of incompleteness that keeps it looping endlessly in your head. This pairs neatly with lyrics about being caught in the cycle of a toxic relationship.
But at times this precision works to the band’s disadvantage. Paramore’s power of reinvention has kept listeners on their toes, steadying the band through the rise and fall (and rise again) of pop-punk. But much of this album lacks the bite its projects usually carry. The “verse, pre-chorus, chorus, repeat” structure shouldn’t feel so restrictive, but as we approach the album’s end, I can already anticipate each track’s movement. This makes “Liar” and “Crave” the weakest moments in the album, with weak hooks.
But I’m still happy to say that despite moments of formulaic repetition, This Is Why is a success for the band, debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200. With its intimate nature and cohesive sound, the album has found a large audience and pleased longtime fans.
So what comes after a comeback? Right now, Paramore is relishing its album rollout as the band prepares to hit the road for the next leg of the tour (I’m counting down the days till I see them at home in Atlanta). As an album that so many can relate to after the last few years, it looks like This Is Why might give us all a reason to leave the house.
VOICE’S CHOICES: The News, Running Out of Time, Figure 8