Almost six years since the release of their last album, Paramore is back with “This is Why.” At its best, “This Is Why” captures the emotional awareness that we’ve come to expect from Paramore, but unadventurous vocals and cliche political lyrics make much of the album unmemorable.
For kids who grew up with the explosion of the internet and mobile phone, Paramore’s pop-punk emotional honesty epitomizes the nostalgia of tie-dye, checkerboard Vans and Hot Topic. Almost ten years after they released “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun,” lead singer Hayley Williams’ cathartic choruses and the band’s raspy guitar lines still scratch that itch, encouraging listeners to screw insecurity and let it all go.
But Paramore’s musicality has also matured as their late 2000s-early 2010s generation fans have grown up. Their last album, the ’80s-rock-inspired “After Laughter,” was more vulnerable and introspective, acknowledging the difficulties of superstardom and existing after the departure of key band members Josh Farro and Jeremy Davis.
“This Is Why” aims to expand that reflectiveness: it examines the difficulty of navigating one’s personal life in the context of salient political issues. In an interview with Spotify, Williams said the album is a “culmination of lessons learned over the last four or five years.”
“This Is Why” shines in musically lush moments, as Williams continues to show the resolute emotional strength she has developed from years of struggles with relationship drama, mental health and stressful expectations as an artist.
For example, “You First” deals with the tension between being idealized as a hero by fans and the internalized dread of being defined by one’s mistakes while flourishing with varied textures. The song’s instrumentals modulate from familiar, rough-around-the-edges choruses to smoother, more muted lines that sound like deep breaths. Small sparks, like electric guitar feedback on the song’s bridge, flash throughout.
Likewise, “Crave” glides along in a lonely, atmospheric state of making peace with a tumultuous past. Williams’ declaration that “There isn’t a moment I’d wanna change” is both a forgiving reflection on her experiences with depression and a gentle call for perseverance.
But the album falls flat when it attempts to tackle global political issues, as ostensibly relatable lyrics come off as vague, uninspired millennial ruminations. Williams is 34 now, and “This Is Why” features some bars that sound like an AI chatbot was asked to create rhymes based on conversations about the latest headlines overheard at a brunch spot in Brooklyn.
The title track lets loose with vague expressions of resentment at the world, leaving the listener wondering what to do next. Even worse, “The News” repeatedly hits listeners over the head, with lines like “Every second our collective heart breaks / All together every single head shakes” or “Exploitative / Performative / Informative / And we don’t know the half of it” — saying everything and nothing at the same time. The sense of disconnect is off-putting given Paramore’s past affinity for community, as can be seen in their acknowledgement of the Black artists who influenced them as well as their love for their diverse fanbase.
Adding to the album’s sense of gauche is Williams’ often underwhelming vocal performances. Paramore is at its best when Williams’ vocals have an unsettled edge, but large parts of “This Is Why” lack interesting vocal twists and have no sense of urgency or risk. “C’est Comme Ça” feels largely monotonic, like Williams is attempting to wake up a dead crowd. And while “Figure 8” is built on the classic push-pull of a thorny hook and relatively understated verses, the expressiveness of its chorus seems too contrived — more of a loud sigh than a scream from deep down.
While “This Is Why” may not be Paramore’s best work, it represents the end of an era. As it concludes Paramore’s contract with Atlantic Records, it solidifies 15 years of personal growth and maturity, cultivated since the messy hairdos and rebelliousness of their breakout album, “Misery Business.” Songs like the album closer “Thick Skull,” where Williams cries “I’m coming out with my hands up” in a show of resilience, demonstrate that Paramore is well aware that it is a band with nothing more to prove.
A short, minimal outro of twanging strings closes the album, over which Williams confesses in a near whisper that she is “caught red-handed.” It sounds like the enigmatic hug of one last goodbye.
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