Review: Paramore's This Is Why is a fierce portrait of millennial angst
Just three years ago, in “Simmer,” the first single from Hayley Williams‘ debut solo album Petals for Armor, she growled, “Rage is a quiet thing, you think that you’ve tamed it, but it’s just lying in wait.” Rage isn’t an uncommon sentiment found within Paramore’s discography — just look at the band’s searing breakthrough hit “Misery Business,” a searing, punk-imbued pop anthem vibrating with it. But that was 16 years ago. Williams is not the same, Paramore is not the same, and with time has come maturity. Their rage is no longer unfiltered, teen frustration spewing over blistering guitar riffs — it hasn’t been for a long time. Now, it’s controlled, purposeful, and it’s what permeates Paramore’s sixth studio album This Is Why.
You could say that it’s just been a part of the band’s metamorphosis. Ever since the group’s 2013 self-titled record, Williams, guitarist Taylor York, and drummer Zac Farro, have been defying the constraints of genre, never fearing change and constantly working to refine their sound. But it wasn’t until Paramore’s last album, 2017’s After Laughter, that the shift was truly palpable.
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After a six-year break, the band’s evolution is more noticeable than ever. If After Laughter was teeming with peppy ’80s-inflected pop, This Is Why is its moody alter-ego — an album entrenched in post-punk-tinged malaise and drenched with the influence of early aughts indie rock like Maxïmo Park, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Bloc Party. Less polished, more primal.
It makes sense. Between album cycles, bandleader Williams went through a divorce and released two solo records that were dark, synth-heavy and deeply personal. So This Is Why is angsty, but this isn’t the teen angst that once defined the Nashville trio. This is millennial angst, the kind that is affecting particularly the late 20s, early 30s crowd; the kind that comes from a pandemic hangover, political unease, depression, loss and loneliness. In short, the majority of Paramore’s fandom can relate to it intimately. And if they hadn’t the past two years, they sure as hell do now.
Throughout the 10-track album, Paramore deftly dances away the political and personal pain of the past few years. Opener “This Is Why” channels Talking Heads and cycles through the creeping paranoia of isolation, while math-rock-tinged anthem “The News” confronts the horror of the media cycle. “Figure 8” underscores the gritty soundscape of 2005’s All We Know Is Falling and 2007’s Riot! as Williams spirals over frantic keys and blistering guitar riffs. “Big Man Little Dignity” evokes Stevie Nicks’ feathery vocals while delivering a scathing takedown. “You keep your head high, smooth operator in a shit-stained suit,” Williams snarls.
The band treads into experimental territory with “C’est Comme Ça,” a tub-thumping post-punk swirl of panic and self-deprecation that will likely be a shock to Paramore fans who hopped on board after being charmed by “Rose Colored-Boy.” Over anxious guitar jabs on “Running Out of Time,” a song inspired by a memory with Taylor Swift, Williams comes to the harsh realization many people approaching mid-life have: that time isn’t infinite.
But it’s the propulsive “You First” that is perhaps the standout of the album, seemingly nodding to “Misery Business” and the band’s lingering pop-punk ethos. “Thought I’d simmer down as I got older, can’t shake the devil sitting on my shoulder,” Williams intones.
The album’s final trio of revelatory tracks are much more downtempo than the rest of the album. On the surf-pop-inflected “Crave,” Williams grapples with mindfulness. “Just for a second it all felt simple, I’m already missing it,” she sings with a wistful lilt. “Liar” is a tender ballad about accepting you have romantic feelings for someone that evokes the dreamy ‘70s rock of Fleetwood Mac. The quietest moment of the record is its closer “Thick Skull” until it explodes into a cinematic crescendo — a stunning finale after a trip through the emotional spectrum.
This Is Why is not only impressive for its sonic experimentation, but for the way, it aptly depicts the universal anger millennials have felt the past few years. That rage may have changed shape, but it’s turned their primal shouts, feverish guitar riffs and biting lyrics into their most ambitious work yet.