Hear that? It’s the sound of a pandemic hangover. ‘This Is Why’, the dark and syncopated title track of the sixth album from Paramore, conveys a feeling of swirling paranoia, akin to hearing voices in one’s head. As a marimba rattles along, hiccuping drums consistently spiral into unforeseen new directions, while lead vocalist Hayley Williams adopts a gentle vocal twang which curls around the lyrics. “This is why / I don’t leave the house / You say the coast is clear / But you won’t catch me out,” she repeats, sounding detached from the wild noises unfurling in the background. By speaking in a cryptic language, it’s as though, for Williams, dwelling in the tension is almost as scary as the real thing.
Paramore have always understood that even a great pop song can’t fix the worst feelings. Where 2017’s ‘After Laughter’ projected contrasting images of bug-eyed terror and healing through its primary colour-hued, Talking Heads-influenced melodies, ‘This Is Why’ zooms in on a record-scratch/freeze frame moment: the uncertain world of post-quarantine life.
Even if the Nashville trio – comprising Williams, drummer Zac Farro and guitarist Taylor York – took an extended break during the pandemic, they continuously resurfaced as a point of inspiration throughout that period. 2007’s ‘Riot!’ has become a touchstone for the Gen Z artists who grew up with their shout-along pop punk, which can best be heard today in the likes of Willow, Dylan and specifically, Olivia Rodrigo’s 2021 hit ‘Good 4 U’. Yet Paramore’s influence extends beyond pop-rock artists: you only have to turn to singer-producer PinkPantheress, who reveres the band for their resilient messaging, having previously told NME that seeing them headline Reading Festival 2014 was what encouraged her to pursue music.
‘This Is Why’ is as in tune with the textures of today’s forward-thinking rock as much as it is a love letter to Paramore’s brilliantly caustic early days. There’s a great deal of volatility to the band’s artistic growth, and it shows in both their evolution leading up to ‘This Is Why’ and the sound of the album itself. Where their earlier music was fluorescent, booming and wrapped up in pent-up frustrations, standouts ‘Big Man Little Dignity’ and ‘Figure 8’ stretch the spectrum of emotion outwards. On the former, Williams subtly experiments with cadence and tone in playful ways, while the track’s feverish guitar loop feels expertly engineered to remedy a pure, increasingly anxious expression of the present.
‘The News’ is the loudest track Paramore have put their name to for years, as the song rides its bassline to a theatrical, horror-infused guitar build-up. There are fleeting moments where their riffier tendencies can get the best of them; almost unbelievably, the jagged guitars that kick off ‘C’est Comme Ça’ could pass for a cover of Hard-Fi’s ‘Hard To Beat’, but the fine balance between direct songwriting and excess holds up. “I’m off caffeine on doctor’s orders / Said it was gonna help to level out my hormones,” Williams intones in a dead-eyed drawl, before she hits the bullseye with a line that surely inspire dozens of Instagram captions: “Lucky for me, I run on spite and sweet revenge.”
The spirit of reclamation within these songs is made all more potent by the force with which Williams excavates and releases her feelings. There is a slippery ambiguity to the latter half of ‘This Is Why’. On one level, Williams is contemplating why, in the midst of global hardship, she feels like an emotional vampire (‘Crave’); on another, she’s building up the courage to face up to her own personal failings (‘Thick Skull’). By laying her learnings bare, she deftly exposes how people vulnerable to change can absorb their fear and hurt others in response. Though Williams is unsparing in her depiction of intrusive thoughts, she explores years of unrest with a real level of care.
With some of their most fearless songwriting to date,‘This Is Why’ is a bold reminder of how limitless Paramore can be. For every hard rock riff that soars to an explosive finale, there’s an adventurous vocal detour or lightly psychedelic moment. It’s remarkable that we’ve reached this point at all: this is a band that has been through the wringer, overcoming infighting and myriad lineup changes while simultaneously evolving into one of the most widely-respected acts of their generation.
Paramore are reaching to where, finally, their music has wanted to get to for the best part of the past decade. Rather than try to top their peerless anthems, the band have instead uncovered a new warmth on ‘This Is Why’, and the effect is triumphant indeed.
- Release date: February 10
- Record label: Atlantic/Fueled by Ramen