On 'This Is Why,' Paramore emerges from our collective fever dream
In her book Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino writes of a globe-dominating phenomenon that "is built to distend our sense of identity," "cheapens our understanding of solidarity" and "destroys our sense of scale." Her words, published in 2019, were about internet culture.
But a year or so later, you could have mistaken these as descriptions of another kind of viral crisis that has distorted every aspect of life on earth, on and offscreen, practically overnight. Those conditions make fertile soil for This Is Why, where the world is not the same as it was a few years ago and neither is Paramore.
The conditions of pandemic times serve as a backdrop for the new record, released after a five-year hiatus. Now two decades in, Paramore currently consists of Hayley Williams, Zac Farro and Taylor York. Having faced loss, grief, disillusionment and revelation, this return is a declaration of a new skin for a band so good at shedding them in the public eye. But for a world hell-bent on erasing the memory of the last three years of strife, Paramore approaches hard times with a refreshing sense of self.
On "The News," the band directly confronts the depths of the end times while striking the chord of numb consumption that has become the new normal. With the edgy and grown sonics of the band's breakout singles such as "Misery Business" and "All I Wanted," the second single from This Is Why is a melancholic look at the global state of affairs: "So far from a front line / Quite the opposite, I'm safe inside / But I worry and I give money / And I feel useless behind this computer."
With Farro's dynamic drumming and York's bridge-building guitar work, Williams vocalizes to the end of heartache — something that is only possible if we unplug.
"Some days I feel so over it, almost to the point of apathy," Williams told The Guardian, "but that's the struggle — that you have to fight."
Across the album, the band longs for an acknowledgement of the fever dream we have all been experiencing post-pandemic. Standout tracks such as "Running Out of Time" and "You First" play into a refreshing kind of snarkiness from Williams — a welcome return in her performance.
On "You First," she croons, "I never said I wasn't petty / You can bet I don't regret it for a second / It's a pleasure, it's a reckoning." The lyrics reflect on the gritty parts of self awareness, and that kind of view on the world grounds the songs in a way that feels like catching up with an old friend whose quirks you don't mind adjusting for.
"Never mind, I hit the snooze on my alarm 20 times / But I was just so tired / There was traffic, spilled my coffee, crashed my car, otherwise / Would've been here on time," Williams casually sings on "Running Out of Time."
On the latter half of the album, Williams speaks to the dangerous games we play when we romanticize our pasts without proper context. On "Crave," she grieves a past self that's out of reach ("I romanticize even the worst of times / When all it took to make me cry was being alive") as York builds tender chords that pull you in and out of a memoryscape of your choosing.
York does something similar, but darker, on "Figure 8" to illustrate just how seductive the cycles of harm can be when we lose ourselves to the taste of revenge. These tracks nestle in our distortion of time as we reprocess the things that we say we have healed from... all the while, our world is unraveling in the background.
Not only does Paramore speak to the apathy of the times without sweeping grief under the rug, but the band has found a new equilibrium among its members. Farro builds warm choruses that pull listeners into Williams' revenge-plot storytelling; York adds a prickly spine to each track. They work in tandem with intention and care in ways that add grit to the trio.
Farro and York have said that writing This Is Why finally felt like an equally yoked process that they have never been able to master before. "We honed in on our individual tools for this record; This Is Why was such a perfect storm," Farro told Zane Lowe.
The album closes out with "Thick Skull,'' a slower build about hoping that one day you could make peace with the skeletons in the closet: "Thick skull never dead / Same lesson again." Paramore may not have all the answers, but this album shows the fortitude that comes with sitting squarely in front of yourself, no longer making excuses for the mess of it all.
Clarissa Brooks is a writer and cultural worker based in Atlanta. She is currently the audience editor at Reckon News. She is trying her best and writing about it along the way.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.