By Eric Brown, Courier Music Editor
The band Paramore has come a long away over the past few years. Since their 2005 debut All We Know Is Falling, the band has served as one of America’s emo darlings. From legendary stints on the genre-defining Warped Tour to their enthusiastic and gifted vocalist Hayley Williams, Paramore had everything a short lived emo-pop sensation could want in the era of modern music.
After achieving widespread fame with their 2007 release Riot! Paramore enjoyed selling out large venues and, well, the rest is history. Fading away like the fads that they were, Paramore never recorded again and enjoyed sufficient profits from their two previous records.
This assertion couldn’t be farther from the way the situation unfolded. Amidst the struggles that accompany fame Paramore nearly disintegrated due to personal conflicts, but instead joined producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) for a new series of sessions. The resulting Brand New Eyes has this emo wary critic wishing that bands almost fell apart more often.
Paramore’s choices going into Brand New Eyes were fairly obvious. Riot! provided a number of good songs but also had its share of forgettable tracks—the key was that Riot! showed the band’s promise. Brand New Eyes was the band’s opportunity to build on their strengths and improve their weaknesses, and with Cavallo’s assistance they did just that.
The album’s lead track “Careful” succinctly indicates Paramore’s departure from their more youthful and inexperienced back catalog. Although the song hardly marks a sonic adjustment, its deeply dark and foreboding tone is one that resonates for the rest of the album. On previous Paramore records Williams’ innate vocal talent was evident but she only occasionally channeled it into truly resonant performances—Brand New Eyes is an album filled with such renditions, and “Careful” serves as an excellent starting point to analyze the band’s subtle developmental advances.
“Careful” leads directly to the phenomenal heart of Brand New Eyes. The three subsequent tracks (“Ignorance”, “Playing God”, “Brick By Boring Brick”) serve as the dramatic cornerstone of the album and are also the best songs on the record. “Ignorance” and “Brick By Boring Brick” are the two most effective songs in Paramore’s style—the fast tempos, catchy guitar riffs, and sly vocal lines are strongly reminiscent of the band’s classics “Misery Business” and “Crushcrushcrush”.
What makes these two choices better than the other average and similar sounding songs on the album such as “Feeling Sorry” and “Where The Lines Overlap” is their urgency and lyrical incisiveness. The bottom line is that in both tracks Williams and Company sound more emotionally invested (and not in the cliché high school drama queen way) than they ever have before.
The solid “Turn It Off” plays the role of maintaining the energy for the most adventurous track on Brand New Eyes, “The Only Exception”. Critics everywhere would be dull to not realize the connection to Coldplay, but the song is much more than a simple reference to a contemporary band. Rather than being startled that Paramore would sample Coldplay’s style, listeners should note the stand-alone excellence of “The Only Exception”. Without sounding sappy or corny the song uses thoughtful lyrics, stripped down instrumentation, and Williams’ vocal range to reach a new emotional height.
The rest of the album is strong (at least more so than the poor finish to Riot!) but can become tired once one realizes the template that Paramore has mastered for Brand New Eyes. All of the songs on the record have concise hooks, frenetic verses, and satisfying finishes, but occasionally dwell on repetitive and uncreative choruses and bridges. In this respect Brand New Eyes is a collection of songs built for the era of music shuffling. There isn’t a bad song on the album, but the homogenous nature of some of the tracks suits a nonconsecutive listening method better. Contrary to this notion of the album’s target demographic, the album is far better when listened to on high quality headphones or speakers. What seemed dull on the standard iPod earbuds suddenly grooved and made sense on my Bose noise-canceling headphones.
After the first listen the average tracks at the end of the album are spent waiting for the closer, “All I Wanted”. The song is among the most impressive vocal performances in recent popular music. Williams lends a nuanced and immaculate performance to an already poignant lyrical message, creating a sensational end to the Brand New Eyes.
Paramore’s newest release undoubtedly marks a significant development from their previous hyperbole saturated albums. Some elements of Brand New Eyes, such as the occasional moments where songs drag or the songwriting reverts back to a more juvenile state, indicate Paramore’s relative youth. In other contexts these instances would serve as severe detractors from the quality of the album, but instead on Brand New Eyes they are simple reminders that the band still has room for major improvement from their already exceptional status.