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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
On Feb. 10, Paramore released “This Is Why” — their sixth studio album and first album in almost six years since they released “After Laughter” in 2017. Now, the three-piece pop-punk band (currently composed of Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Zac Farro) is older and wiser, and they’ve come back with a mature, somewhat anxiety-fueled take on the discontent of living in today’s world. Although it’s an impressive addition to Paramore’s discography, “This Is Why”’s lyrics don't quite hit the mark.
Known for their explosive presence in the 2000s pop-punk and emo music scenes, Paramore has decidedly moved on from the teen angst of their earlier work.
“We don’t want to be a nostalgia band,” Williams said in an interview with Louder.
Thus far, they’ve succeeded. Paramore has never been afraid to change up their sound, from their more radio-friendly self-titled album to the bubbly, fake-happy “After Laughter.” Perhaps it should be expected, then, that their new album subverts expectations in a similar way.
“This Is Why” feels like a natural next step for the band. It combines the funky pop sound of “After Laughter” with the more subdued indie introspection of Williams’s recent solo projects like 2020’S “Petals For Armor”. Despite this evolution of their music, “This Is Why” still contains traces of Paramore’s older, angst-driven sound, albeit for a different generation and from an older perspective. The result is a post-punk meditation on pandemic-era bitterness and political outrage, and it’s by far the band’s most mature album to date.
The album’s focus on modern issues is evident right from its first song, the title track “This Is Why.” It’s a jittery, jumpy song that speaks to agoraphobia, perhaps due to the pandemic or simply from the many pressures of trying to survive in our present day. Propelled by glitchy, brash production, the rest of the album takes the listener through edgy stops and starts. The anxiety-inducing “The News” is a commentary on the never-ending cycle of upsetting global events. And “Big Man, Little Dignity,” a song about irresponsible men who get away with misdeeds, is both timeless and relatable in the current cultural climate.
However, the second half of “This Is Why” struggles to maintain the charged momentum that sustained its beginning. Instead, it’s bogged down by ballads such as “Liar” and “Crave,” which suffer from lackluster songwriting. While the more uptempo melodies of songs such as “The News” were enough to compensate for their lacking lyrical content, their shortcomings become apparent when paired with a more stripped-down tune. “Liar,” in particular, is frustratingly generic — a disappointment considering that Paramore has shown they’re capable of much more.
“This Is Why” is an album that relies on repetition, hammering in its points by spinning the listener in lyrical circles. But the songs aren’t distinct enough from each other for this repetition to be as potent as it could be. Because of this, the overall project suffers from sameness, both sonically and lyrically. After hearing four shouty songs about being anxious for the future, it’s easy to get bored. There are so many different angles one could take on modern frustrations and worries, but “This Is Why” feels uniformly on edge.
The album’s high points, nonetheless, are very high. The deliciously barbed earworm “You First” is a standout, as is the album closer “Thick Skull,” a sweeping yet introspective rock ballad that combines all the best aspects of the band’s diverse soundscape. Overall, “This Is Why” is a testament to Paramore’s longevity, showcasing the natural evolution and maturity of their sound. But it doesn’t quite feel worth waiting six years for.
—Staff writer Samantha H. Chung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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