It’s been ten years since Paramore released ‘Now’, the first single from their self-titled album, but its message remains as relevant and vital to the band’s ethos as ever: “Lost the battle, win the war/ I’m bringing my sinking ship back to the shore.” To this day, few rock bands are as adept at making their albums feel like battlefields, and their whole evolution has been about finding new ways to soldier through the chaos – not the sort of abstract turbulence other acts gesture at, but the real (and often sensationalized) kind that results from “15 to 20 years of fighting like a bunch of brats in front of the world,” as Williams put it in an interview with The Guardian. In search of a new identity, Paramore playfully but earnestly sprawled through different genres, hinting at a transition that didn’t fully materialize until 2017’s After Laughter. That album’s shift to vibrant, 80s-indebted synth-pop was as unexpected as it was cleverly framed, its bright sound both countering and illuminating Hayley Williams’ brutally honest lyrics about struggling with depression.
Paramore is now made up of Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, and This Is Why is their first LP to feature the same lineup as the previous one. In the past few years, of course, the trio had to once again recalibrate, and the album’s title track felt like a perfect encapsulation of where the band stood in 2022, when their influence on some of today’s biggest pop stars – from Olivia Rodrigo to Billie Eilish – could not be understated. After Laugher‘s emphasis on groove was still there, with the anxiety creeping further up to the surface; the song left things somewhat open-ended, but the rest of the singles, and now the full album, provide more context. This Is Why continues its predecessor’s focus on self-reflection but can’t help but turn its gaze outward, attempting to balance different kinds of conflict: ‘The News’ opens by juxtaposing a war “on the other side of the planet” with “a war right behind my eyes.” The track addresses the ways in which the media exploits “the general population’s blatant disregard for nuance,” as Williams has explained (without directly referring to ‘The News’), but fails to offer much in the way of it – even as a pure expression of outrage rather than sharp commentary, it comes off a bit flat.
This Is Why is more effective when fleshes out the jerky edges of its title track. On ‘Running Out of Time’, the cultural backdrop is less explicit, but the feeling of dreadful exhaustion is palpable while leaving room for snappy, vibrant production that keeps it engaging. ‘Figure 8’ directly echoes the cathartic After Laughter highlight ‘No Friend’, but rather than opening the door to a similar kind of darkness, it serves more as a deft fusion of that track and the bouncier ‘Pool’. The album hits hardest when it embodies such contradictions, be they musical or emotional; ‘You First’ channels the fury this band has built its name on but comes with a twist, as Williams paints herself as the villain in her own story: “Turns out I’m living in a horror film/ Where I’m both the killer and the final girl.” Later, while acknowledging her mistakes on the closing track, ‘Thick Skull’, she self-consciously looks at the camera: “What’s the body count up to now, captain?”
‘Thick Skull’ – which happens to be the first song Paramore wrote for the LP – may be hauntingly self-aware, but it reaches a striking crescendo that seems to look beyond the ghosts of the past. It’s preceded by two ballads, ‘Liar’ and ‘Crave’, which match the rich intimacy of Williams’ solo albums but whose yearning melancholy feels expertly placed here; it reveals a softer, more nuanced perspective the record lacks when it centers on vague (though righteous) frustration at the state of the world. On ‘Crave’, it seems like they’re almost giving into nostalgia, but the song is ultimately anchored in the moment, imagining a bridge between past and present. If it sounds a bit too familiar, it’s because Paramore have fought for this ground, and they’re still figuring out how to move forward. “I hate to admit getting better is boring/ But the high cost of chaos, who can afford it?” Williams belts out on ‘C’est Comme Ca’, and This Is Why finds Paramore trading in their own currency.