“We look forward to our best times. And we hope you will go there with us.” In late 2010, Paramore announced the departure of Zac and Josh Farro in careful, measured terms. They put sniping aside in favour of a renewed focus and optimism. After months of in-fighting and disagreements, the drummer and guitarist, both founder members, had had enough. In a classic example of ‘my-word-against-yours’, both parties took to the internet to air their side of the story. The brothers claimed they were merely puppets, that the whole enterprise was a manufactured construct designed to make singer Hayley Williams a pop star. The three remaining members (Hayley, bassist Jeremy Davies and guitarist Taylor York) dismissed the claims, re-branded themselves as a tight trio and decided to let the music do the talking. “Paramore is a band,” the t-shirts claimed. Bollocks, said the departing brothers. Whatever. We’ll never know. But with (then) current album Brand New Eyes expanding their fan base into both the mainstream and the alternative sector, this was a breakdown that smacked of commercial suicide. When we spoke to LostAlone main man Steven Battelle (a friend from way back) recently, he described the acrimony at the time as horrible but that the band had re-emerged stronger. The new album would silence the doubters, he reckoned. And boy, does he reckon right.
But it’s been a hard road. During 2011, partly to simply see who and what they now were but partly, you suspect, to simply remind the world they were still in business, the newly trim Paramore released three tracks as part of an online singles club. Generic and predictable, they added weight to the Farro brothers’ case. The good news? Paramore is altogether smarter, bigger, braver. It keeps enough of their previous schematics to retain identity but it smashes with gusto many of the restraints of a genre that they, and many of their scene mates, have been often accused of holding dear for too long. The likes of ‘Misery Business’ and ‘Ignorance’, pointed nuggets of punk-pop, have won them admiring glances from those who wish they knew better. Here, Paramore demonstrate a broader scope and a deeper outlook. Once nearly derailed, the stadiums beckon again.
It says much for their crossover appeal, and likeability, that in the week before the album’s release, they covered Alt-J in the 1FM Live Lounge with almost apologetic humility. “They’re probably too cool for us to cover but we like ‘em, so...” That said, Paramore buzzes with a snarling ferocity. Its self-belief is infectious. Yes, it dabbles with sweetly disposable pop (‘Fast In My Car’ and ‘Still Into You’) and the indie rock shapes of old (‘Now’ and the epic ‘Grow Up’.) And yes, at times, you fear the whole ‘fuck with us at your peril’ slant is being pushed a little too far but they stop themselves just short of preachy show-boating. They strive and the rewards are great. On the irresistible ‘Proof’, the sweet sentiment of ‘Still Into You’ makes way for something altogether sharper: “My heart is bigger than the distance in between us,” sings a lovelorn Hayley. Elsewhere, ‘Hate To See Your Heart Break’ is a gentle acoustic lament that gains force from nudging down the volume. The same goes for the ‘interludes’, a conceit that could have died on its over-thought arse, but, spaced evenly throughout, this trio of acoustic mood pieces offers valuable light and shade.
Paramore comes alive, though, when it really dares to play around. At 17 tracks, it could have been flabby and unfocused but time to roam gives it room to breathe. There’s a ‘what does this button do?’ curiosity that gives this lengthy record value beyond mere quantity. ‘Ain’t It Fine’ breaks free on a tricksy riff and a new-found soul, its heritage flavours seasoned with fat, gospel backing. ‘(One of Those) Crazy Girls’ skips lightly with doo-wop groove, further evidence that Taylor York, who came in to the fold as a touring back-up player, has enough about him to make this gig his own. In short, there’s enough old Paramore (a fuller, glossier hook-laden pop-rock) here to repay the hardcore’s faith. But there’s divergence aplenty, not least in nine minute album closer ‘The Future’, where an extended, disquieting opening (“We don’t care about the past, we’re writing the future...”) gives way to a squalling, feedback-soaked coda devastating and uncompromising. With Hayley nowhere to be seen, it’s an unmistakable gesture. Whether Paramore, despite what those t-shirts once said, were ever a band or not is hardly worth debating. But on this evidence, it’s beyond question.