Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams moved from Mississippi to Tennessee at the age of 13. She met Josh and Zac Farro in a program for home-schooled students. Drummer Zac Farro was in his early teens when they formed Paramore in 2004 with bassist Jeremy Davis. Williams had already signed a deal with Atlantic Records at the age of 14, but opted to play in a rock band rather than become “the next Madonna”.
Paramore’s members, Williams, Zac Farro, and guitarist Josh Farro were all teenagers when the band released 2005’s pop/punk/emo debut All We Know Is Falling. Bass player Jeremy Davis rejoined in time for 2007’s Riot! along with new guitarist Taylor York. The Farro brothers left after 2009’s Brand New Eyes, and Paramore broadened their scope with 2013’s self-titled record. York became Williams’ new writing partner, and the success continued with 2017’s After Laughter. Fans were concerned that Williams’ 2020 solo debut Petals for Armor is almost an anagram of “Last of Paramore”. Paramore, however, have announced plans for a sixth album, reportedly taking them back to their pop-punk roots.
Paramore never interested me much during their first decade – even though Williams is an excellent vocalist, I wasn’t interested in the emo and pop/punk zone that they operated in. As they’ve moved closer to pop/rock in the last decade, they’ve lured me into their orbit.
Paramore Album Reviews
All We Know Is Falling
Paramore were extraordinarily young when their debut album was released. Williams was 16, while drummer Zac Farro had only just turned 15. Their debut was recorded in 3 weeks in Orlando, Florida. The lyrics deal with the divorce of Williams’ parents and the departure of bass player Jeremy Davis. ‘Brighter’ is written about a friend who died during a boating trip with Williams.
All We Know Is Falling missed the Billboard Top 200 and only just scraped into the UK top 50. It sold better in the wake of the band’s subsequent popularity. In hindsight, All We Know is Paramore’s least interesting record, stylistically limited to emotional pop-punk, but there’s also a lot of potential from the teenaged band with Williams’ powerful voice and strong playing.
It’s hard to pick highlights out of such a samey record, but the singles ‘Emergency’ and ‘Pressure’ are among the most memorable cuts. ‘Franklin’, named after the band’s home-town in Tennessee, is a nice change of pace with its slower pace and prominent male vocals.
All We Know Is Falling feels more like an encapsulation of a teenaged pop-punk scene than a great record in its own right, but it’s accomplished for a band of teenagers and paves the way for future triumphs.
Still teenagers, Paramore nonetheless sound much more confident on their sophomore album. The songs are more memorable, the riffs are more memorable, and there’s more variety. Producer David Bendeth furnishes the band with a bigger sound, and receives writing co-credits for ‘We Are Broken’ and ‘Fences’. Williams and Josh Farro had broken up after a three-year relationship, providing the subtext for songs like ‘Misery Business’.
There’s much more stylistic variation than before. ‘When It Rains’ and ‘crushcrushcrush’ showcases Paramore’s pop-sense and presage their work in the next decade. ‘We Are Broken’ is a dramatic piano ballad that recalls Evanescence, but the bridge takes the song in an entirely different direction. The core of the Riot! are the rockers in the opening. The hard-charging riffs of ‘For A Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic’ and ‘That’s What You Get’ suit William’s strident voice.
Riot! is an impressive sophomore album from Paramore, widening their appeal beyond a narrow pop-punk fanbase.
Brand New Eyes
Brand New Eyes is effectively the final album from Paramore Mark I, as the Farro brothers would leave the band in 2010. Zac returned in 2017, but Josh left permanently after co-writing every track on Paramore’s first three albums. Josh Farro objected to Williams’ more personal lyrics, specifically the line “the truth never set me free”. Farro objected that it was in direct contradiction to the Bible. Williams’ more personal lyrics are more effective though – still only 20, her lyrical maturity is impressive. Musically, Brand New Eyes is perhaps overly similar to Riot!, although the acoustic tracks are welcome.
Just like Riot!, Brand New Eyes opens with a series of rockers like ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Brick by Boring Brick’. The driving riff of ‘Turn It Off’ is a highlight of the first half. The more diverse material comes later – the acoustic ‘The Only Exception’ is heartfelt, although I prefer ‘Misguided Ghosts’.
Despite Williams’ increased lyrical maturity, Brand New Eyes feels like Riot! redux.
As its self-titled name indicates, Paramore’s 2013 album is effectively a career reboot. With no Farro brothers, the only official members are Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York. York is effective replacing Josh Farro as Williams’ co-writer, while Ilan Rubin, who’s also played with Nine Inch Nails, is on drums. Paramore largely abandons the intensity of their earlier records for a broader range of sounds, taking in influences from new wave and sometimes sounding reminiscent of Blondie. It’s a long record, stretching out over an hour with 17 tracks, but it’s consistently good.
The funky pop-rock of ‘Ain’t It Fun’ anticipates the band’s next record, After Laughter. First single ‘Now’ serves as a bridge back to the Paramore of the previous decade, with its pop-punk attack and the lines “Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore/We’re starting over, or head back in”. ‘Grow Up’ seems blatantly about Josh Farro, while ‘Still Into You’ is a touching love song.
It’s lengthy, but Paramore is consistently good, reinventing the band for a new decade.
There’s more lineup turnover for Paramore’s fifth album. Jeremy Davis is out of the band but Zac Farro’s back, while Taylor York remains as Williams’ primary collaborator. Following on from Paramore, there’s more of a synth-pop sheen than ever before, evoking the 1980s. After Laughter is joyful musically, but as the title implies it’s downbeat lyrically. Williams battled depression and announced her separation from her husband during the album’s promotional cycle. Despite the turmoil, After Laughter is the band’s best record, stuffed with pop hooks, telling lyrics, and the occasional experimental moment.
The juxtaposition between joyful music and downbeat lyrics is exemplified on lead single ‘Hard Times’. Over a disco-inflected beat, Williams sings lyrics like “Walking around/With my little rain cloud/Hanging over my head”. There are lots of other great hooks too – the lovely introduction to ‘Grudges’ and the bouncy ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ are instantly catchy. My favourite song, ‘Pool’, was never released as a single but it’s great – Williams’ voice hitting some lovely high notes during the chorus. After Laughter isn’t all upbeat pop – ’26’ and ‘Tell Me How’ are sparse, while ‘No Friend’ approaches experimental sound collage.
After Laughter is a terrific record, transforming hard times into great pop.
10 Best Paramore Songs
Ain’t It Fun
Still Into You
We Are Broken
When It Rains
Petals for Armor
Paramore’s After Laughter is my favourite album of 2017, which effectively makes the solo debut of frontwoman Hayley Williams my most anticipated record of 2020. Williams released the fifteen tracks of Petals for Armor in stages. The first five songs as an EP in February and the second set in March, before the full album was released in early May.
Petals for Armor features Paramore’s other current members – guitarist Taylor York produces, and tourist bassist Joey Howard is also involved. Zac Farro only drums on a couple of tracks, but directed the music video for ‘Dead Horse’. Petals for Armor is understandably similar to Paramore’s recent work, but more introspective and subdued. Williams takes the opportunity afforded by a solo career to write about more adult themes – anger on ‘Simmer’ and lust on ‘Sudden Desire’.
Fifteen tracks is often too many, but the songwriting is consistent enough that it becomes a sprawling album that listeners can pick different favourites from each time. Currently my favourite is the low key ‘Why We Ever’ – it starts as a lush pop song before winding down into an emotionally fraught piano and vocal piece.
Upbeat songs like ‘Dead Horse’ and ‘Pure Love’ recall the technicolour synth-pop of After Laughter. The brooding opener ‘Simmer’ immediately stakes out new territory for Williams, while the six minutes of ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ allows her to stretch out the arrangement with strings.
It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of After Laughter, but Petals for Armor delivers fifteen songs that are often very good.
Flowers for Vases / Descansos
I wasn’t expecting another record from Williams in 2021, but less than a year after Petals for Armor, she’s back with her second record. This time it’s a true solo album, with Williams recording the album in her home studio and handling all the instrumentation herself. Williams announced the low-key album with a fascinatingly low-key marketing campaign. She personally mailed fans severed doll limbs, a reference to the song ‘My Limb’. She leaked the first single by hand-delivering it to a fan on CD and instructing them to upload it.
The sound palette of Flowers for Vases / Descansos is minimal – Williams accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, piano, and drums. The bare-bones instrumentation puts the spotlight on Williams’ songwriting, and she largely succeeds. She’s still dissecting her 2017 divorce, and the record is often contemplative and melancholy. The record opens with the terrific line “First thing to go was the sound of his voice”. There’s pretty material like the lovely piano of ‘KYRH’ (Keep You Right Here), and Williams supplies a full-band arrangement for the rock-oriented closer ‘Just A Lover’.
I’m not sure that I’ll return to this bare-bones album often, but Williams is a strong enough writer and vocalist to make it a compelling listen.