Review: Paramore – Brand New Eyes

Paramore have always been the quintessential band for illustrating one of the oldest dilemmas in music: style or substance. Some regard Paramore as nothing more than Hayley Williams plus four and attribute the entirety of their success to the fact that Hayley is a very attractive young woman; others rally strongly against this claim, pointing out that the band has some strong songwriting talent behind her pretty face. The truth is probably a collaboration of both of these two things, boring as that may be. As much as some may want to downplay it, sex sells; it’s a fact of life. Anything can be improved in the mass consumer mindset by making it more attractive, but the fact remains that lasting popularity is certainly not the end result from an over-reliance on looks. Brand New Eyes constitutes Paramore’s third album, officially sealing their status as more than just a one-hit-wonder, especially considering the huge number of similar bands that have come out of the woodwork since Paramore made it big, and so now is the time for them to really come out swinging and hit the high notes.

Unfortunately, while Brand New Eyes is not a bad record, far from it in fact, it is not the behemoth that fans may have hoped for, not the career defining magnum opus that affirms Paramore as one of the biggest bands in the world. Things start off well: “Careful” gets things rolling nicely, and “Ignorance” practically explodes out of the starting blocks. When Paramore put their collective foot down and really get going, it’s incredibly hard not to get swept up in the momentum. “Misery Business” and “Crushcrushcrush” did it on Riot! and tracks like these two prove they can still throw out a really good pop rock song like few others are capable of, very much showing that they do have the substance some critics would deprive them of. However, in counterbalance to this stands the video for “Ignorance.” Although I’ll admit it’s not really included in the album as such, it still serves as a representation of where the band are right now. Its fashion and style looks to me like being the beginning of the Gwen Stefani pop-star route and the worst thing that could happen to Paramore is that they forget where they came from. Paramore at their best are the Paramore in the video for “That’s What You Get,” and I hope they don’t go too far down the “pop-star” road on their journey to greatness.

There are some other excellent tracks on the album: “Brick by Boring Brick”, “Turn it Off”, “Feeling Sorry” and “Looking Up” all sound excellent, and the whoa-ohs and bah-bahs, while seemingly placed in primarily for live fan interaction rather than musical reasons, work incredibly well, and you can see why they included them. Additionlly kudos should be given for the inclusion of “Decode” for those of us Paramore fans who want the track on CD but would rather not have anything associated with Twilight in our lives. There is nothing more irritating than a band releasing a good song to a movie and then not including in their own material (Taking Back Sunday and Atreyu have both been guilty of this in the past), so definite props given there, even if we don’t get “I Caught Myself”.

However, the majority of the remaining songs fail to live up to these standards. The two most guilty examples are “The Only Exception” and “Misguided Ghosts”. These are the first truly acoustic songs that Paramore have written, and while they should be admired for attempting musical growth, simply put, it just doesn’t work. The lyrics are brought to the fore due to the sparse instrumentation, and unfortunately, lyrics are where Paramore are most lacking. Lines like “I saw my Daddy cry and curse at the wind” are horribly trite, and lack depth and sincerity. Additionally, it’s a shame to hear Hayley’s voice so restrained, considering the huge range she’s capable of. The criticism of these two songs are not a criticism of execution: Paramore can do acoustic tracks, as can be seen on various youtube videos and most especially on their excellent cover of “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters. It’s more that they don’t quite seem capable of crafting a song that contains the rawness of tracks like the aforementioned cover themselves. Another aspect of this album that saddens me, is that the only really big song that doesn’t reach high tempo is “All I Wanted,” and up against older comparable songs like “Hallelujah” and “That’s What You Get,” it’s incredibly weak and forgetful, and lacks the power the songs of “Riot!” had in spades.

In fairness, much of the disappointment felt from this album probably comes from inflated expectations. Paramore have been so successful and written so many good songs that by album number three, there is an expectation that they should have nailed it by now. Sadly this is not a Smash or a The Colour and the Shape. In order to be considered a truly great and influential rock band, Paramore will need to release a better album than this, but just because The Offspring and Foo Fighters managed to do it relatively early on doesn’t mean we should expect the same from Paramore. Dave Grohl had years of experience prior to that release, many of them spent with Kurt Cobain, and Dexter Holland was pushing thirty when Smash came out. We forget that Paramore are still very young, not just as a band but as people. The life experiences that they haven’t yet had will shape their future releases and hopefully give them the depth and sincerity that this album lacks in places. The fact that the band have achieved so much while more than half of them still haven’t reached the landmark of twenty-one is impressive. It took seven full length albums for Green Day (arguably the biggest pop-punk band the world has ever known) to finally make it, so we can afford to give them a little while yet. But if nothing else, we can rest assured that while Hayley may have the looks to propel them skyward, the bulk of the fuel behind the ascent is amply supplied by the music they produce.

Final verdict: 8/10

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