As if pre-release proclamations like "this album is us" or a tracklist that includes several "interludes" didn't already tip you off to the fact, let me be the first to tell you that Paramore are really going for it on their self-titled fourth record, a (really) long player that teems with ambition and studio flourish, both to its benefit and, to a degree, its detriment.
Make no mistake about it, Paramore is a very solid effort, a wide-ranging album that recalls everything from No Doubt's Return of Saturn and the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Opening track "Fast in my Car," muscles up Tegan and Sara's tried-and-true synth pop, while closer "Future" builds organic tension, ala mewithoutYou, then erupts like something from Explosions in the Sky's back catalog. The trio of simple, straightforward interludes recall the brassy, bell-clear vocals of Patsy Cline or Dolly Parton. "Still Into You" could pass for an old Cars B-side. All of these influences are fine and dandy, but a cohesive album they do not make.
And this is most definitely an album, one that feels like it was logically broken down into sides, almost like an old double LP. That in and of itself is rather admirable risk, especially considering we're living in 2013 (and not, say, 1973) but it's a risk nonetheless, and while there's no shortage of quality on the record, well, some of the strongest stuff does tend to get lost. Paramore were smart enough to place roiling first single "Now" front and center, and sure-to-be smash "Ain't It Fun" — all rubbery bass and gospel group vocals — comes near the top of side two. But the hard-charging "Anklebiters" and the sumptuous "Hate To See Your Heart Break" (which is genuinely gorgeous and seems destined to become a Hot AC mainstay) are buried near the back end of the album's 17 tracks, to the point where impatient listeners may miss them.
Of course, "It's too long" ranks amongst the weakest of all criticisms, which is why I'm happy to say it's my only point of contention here. The aforementioned interludes serve no real purpose aside from cleansing the palette (and allowing Hayley Williams to get in a few final digs at the Farro brothers), and they'd probably work better if they were condensed into one track. Songs like "Daydreaming," "Last Hope" and "Be Alone" are pretty enough, but also could have existed solely as deluxe-edition ephemera. But, again, on a record that features so much of, well, everything, you'd be hard-pressed not to find something to complain about.
And ultimately, Paramore rewards those willing to deal with its excesses. Williams has grown considerably as a lyricist, and tracks like the clever "(One Of Those) Crazy Girls" and the sly "I'm Not Angry Anymore" interlude represent her best work to date. And there's no question the band have made a tremendous leap musically, embracing new instruments like synthesizers and xylophones, and delivering jaw-dropping moments like the fiery conclusion to "Future" and the deep, dark breakdown contained within "Part II."
Given everything they've been through (and the sheer number of times Williams makes reference to it), everything on Paramore makes sense ... this is their declaration of independence, their artistic statement. It's the point where their past ends and their future begins. Any lesser band certainly would have crumbled under the weight of it all, or delivered an album that failed to live up to the hype. But Paramore are certainly not one of those bands. They've embraced the drama and the expectations, and, in the process, created an album of tremendous depth and scope, one that serves notice that they're here to stay. Sure, they've taken some risks and stepped out onto the ledge. But you can't make the leap if you're not willing to jump.
What do you think of Paramore's new album? Let us know in the comments below!