It seems there are recurring archetypes in popular music, but none of these are as niche’d as the Teenage Girl Band; the one with lyrics that invade math notebooks, posters in lockers, and pictures on walls or MySpace. Previous alumni include No Doubt, Evanescence, and Avril Lavigne. Back in 2007, the uproaring single “Misery Business” and accompanying album Riot! simultaneously announced and solidified Tennessee’s own sons and daughter Paramore as the next to uphold the mantle.
But then there was some personal drama; the boys were feeling under-presented (fun fact: No Doubt had the exact same problem in their heyday), personalities were chafing around each other, blahblahblah the band nearly broke up. So here comes brand new eyes, which was probably named such to reflect their new maturity and all that.
And it falls into every “The Second Album” cliche I’ve ever seen. It’s “darker and edgier”, “more mature”, “expands their sound”, more “honest”, and yet it “stays true to the band’s roots”. Alright, yeah, the albums rawks out quite a bit, the distortion got turned up, they threw in a pair of acoustic numbers, and the lyrics are more than the generic “boys suck” schtick that was on Riot!. And too often it sounds the same.
Which is a shame, because first single “Ignorance” is actually really exciting. It’s probably the band’s most aggressive number, the lyrics are passable if transparent, and the song is actually memorable. On the album, “Ignorance” is preceded by opening song “Careful”, which doesn’t rock out as hard, but never lets up. Hayley Williams is on fire on these two tracks, and the Paramen aren’t slouches either; Josh Farro and Taylor York churn out some solid riffage here, and the rhythm section’s pretty tight. Two songs in, it’s easy to be excited about brand new eyes.
Too bad song 3 “Playing God” kills any momentum built up by “Careful” and “Ignorance”. From here on out, the formula becomes very clear; riff out an intro, soft verse, calculated big chorus, soft verse, same chorus, bridge, optional solo, done. Not that this is a new formula, but nothing stands out enough to distract you from it. Another flaw is how forced a few of the choruses come off. Take “Brick by Boring Brick” for example, whose chorus is “Go get your shovel/And we’ll dig a deep hole/to bury the castle/to bury the castle”. There’s just no way to gracefully make that singalongable, but damn if they don’t try. The other thing that bugs me is how everyone leaves the volume on “loud” too often. Drummer Zac Farro goes from “wow, he’s good” to “more overbearing and fill-happy than Travis Barker” rather quickly (and frequently), while the guitarists never really change their tone from that same distortion/clean sound. Hayley suffers from this too; having a “soft” voice and a “loud” one and no in between.
Album closer “All I Wanted” is a mixed bag. It’s not hard to imagine the band going for an “epic” closer with the slow, serious pace and confessional lyrics, as well as a simple chorus of “All I wanted was you”. Adding to that sense of being epic, the song builds from a simple beginning with clean electric guitar to a loud, distorted, ringing finish. Hayley brings it all together with a powerhouse vocal, especially around the 2:40 mark. And as good as “All I Wanted” is, it still shows Paramore’s ambitions can get the better of them; after the climax, the song just stops instead of properly ending.
All in all, brand new eyes failed to do much for me. Out of 11 songs, I’d only call three or four great (opening pair, “Brick by Boring Brick”, and “All I Wanted”) and the rest just sort of went by without being too good or too bad to warrant any notice. Evolve or die, Paramore. Two and a half stars.
tl;dr: Paramore grow up and expand their sound. It’s less interesting than it sounds.