Paramore has had a unique history of band members leaving, then coming back.
The title for the band's 2005 debut album, and its respective title track, "All We Know Is Falling," was inspired by original bassist, Jeremy Davis, briefly departing from the band right before the record was tracked. He then returned months later, and left for good in 2015, amidst recently settled legal issues with the band.
And in 2010, founding members, Josh Farro, lead guitarist, and Zac Farro, drummer, left because of in-band turmoil with Hayley Williams, frontwoman, and for their perceived diminishing role in a band they started. While it's not likely Josh will ever find his way back to the band, Zac has returned for the act's latest record, their fifth, and first with the drummer since 2009.
"After Laughter" is the second consecutive album that brands the Franklin, Tenn. outfit as a trio. And much like its predecessor, 2012's "Paramore," it is a much more poppy record than what fans could have expected a decade ago. But it's not Max Martin-sounding pop, as York aptly pointed out to Jeremy Gordon of The New York Times.
They are still Paramore, after all.
The record's first single, "Hard Times," has been compared to songs by Blondie and The Talking Heads. And that's appropriate, given some of the production tricks reminiscent of '80s music on the backing vocals in the chorus and York's retro-inspired guitar tone. It's a pop song that's radio-friendly, but creative and enjoyable nonetheless -- and cool.
"Rose Colored Boy" features some soulful and pain-ridden vocals from Williams. (Imagine if Whitney Houston was a member of Tom Tom Club.) It's one of three tracks on the album that's co-written by all three members.
"Grudges" is another penned by the whole band, and sounds like it's completely about Williams and Farro's relationship. It's a breezy, redemptive song that feels like somewhat of a happy ending to a grudge that could have, at one point, easily meant the end of the band.
York channels The Police guitarist, Andy Summers, on the mellow "Forgiveness." It's an example of the variety of "After Laughter," an album that still manages to flow, despite pulling from difference influences throughout.
What makes this album excellent is that it showcases Williams' range as a vocalist. Mixing soul, pain and a little punk well isn't easy to do. She's able to go big on certain songs that need it, and small when the song calls for it, like the compelling "26."
But she's not the lone star on this album, to be sure. York's guitar work features an impressive cross-section of influences from tribal to new wave. And there's a sense of credibility given to this release having Farro back in the mix to drum and write.
There are few negatives about the album. Some songs don't stand out as well as others, like "Told You So" and "Idle Worship," but are far from bad songs.
"No Friend," is a bit out of place and perhaps a little too long (3:23 for what's basically an interlude), but interesting. It's a spoken word piece with somewhat buried vocals provided by Aaron Weiss of MewithoutYou.
Overall, "After Laughter" is a look at a band that has gone through its share of hard times (pun intended), but has come out okay, and not without scars. It's a fitting portrait. And while the band has shed much of its punk roots, this isn't a shallow or generic pop record, even if it is somewhat of a pop record.
"After Laughter" leaves the listener wanting more. It's an album with compelling subtext and a compelling set of songs.
It's far too early to call "After Laughter" the best album of the year, but it's certainly a contender.