It’s easy to neglect the fact that Hayley Williams is only 20 and that American emo-rockers Paramore – whether the band would care to admit it or not – make music aimed at a bunch of people even younger than her. To dismiss this is to surely miss the point completely.
Or, depressingly, do we really live in an age that expects pre-adolescents to get Nick Cave’s sexual metaphors; assumes that the internet age makes it an even playing field for all; and reduces an album like Brand New Eyes to that of na�ve, emotionally-immature pop-that-thinks-it’s-punk confection?
The simple fact is that kids love Paramore because their music resonates with who they are and how they feel. The “who they are” connection manifests itself through Williams’ witty, astringent lyrics and her bristling emo-howl. And although the album doesn’t foray much beyond the bounds of broken and nearly-broken relationships (that relate to band members as well as ex-boyfriends) and the frustrations associated with growing into adulthood, its Williams’ fieriness and skillful rhythmic wordplay that set her apart as a worthy teen icon for an irascible generation. Listening to Brand New Eyes, it’s clear that there’s a healthy streak of genuine punk influence to go with the lashings of punk-ass attitude.
The “how they feel” part of the deal is communicated vicariously though the constant surge of guitar-based punk-rock. At times, Brand New Eyes feels as gloriously anthemic as anything in recent memory. The album’s songs hit their mark with unerring frequency and it’s only an occasional slowing of the pace that allows for any kind of respite. But when the band’s at full pelt, their instinctual ability to repeatedly hit the rock-meets-pop apex sees the album accelerate to its conclusion without so much as a yeah-but-this-is-meant-for-kids momentary dab on the brakes.
Careful opens the album with typically care-free, guitar-laden bluster. An immediately tempestuous Williams wastes little time introducing herself before the chest’s protruded and the gloves are off: “The truth never set me free / so I’ll do it myself.” Like previous albums, Brand New Eyes relies heavily on Williams’ splenetic outbursts; but this is an album of stellar riffs as well as lyrical swipes, and it’s clear the addition of a further guitarist, Taylor York, has beefed up and refined the band’s sonic output.
Recent single Ignorance is testimony of this. The irresistible crunch of multiple power chords is met by a satisfying tirade of back talking: “Where’s your gavel? Your jury? / What’s my offense this time? / You’re not a judge / but if you’re gonna judge me / well sentence me to another life.” It can convey as petulance, but Williams is able to just about steer Paramore clear of territories obnoxious and into a place that’s either innocent fun or guilty pleasure, depending on age.
The furious burst of high octane punk that is Brick By Boring Brick brings an overinflated ego crashing down. A note to oneself, Miss Williams? Taking into account the well-documented pre-album turmoil, this hypothesis might not be that wide of the mark. Two other tracks are clear celebrations of the band’s continued existence. Williams’ relief during Looking Up is obvious: “Could have given up so easily / I was a few cheap shots away.” As is her appreciation during Where The Lines Overlap: “No one is as lucky as us.” Ain’t that the truth.
It says a lot about the growing maturity of Williams and her crew that Brand New Eyes manages to find time for two worthwhile ballads. The Only Exception is the more conventional of the two and, despite her previous lyrical rejections, reveals Williams as something of a closet romantic. But it’s the plaintive folkiness of Misguided Ghosts that comes as the album’s most unexpected juncture. Williams’ voice, without the support of an army of distorted guitars, is affecting and delicate, and her tentative musings equally so.
With instantly infectious attitude and a seemingly unending supply of irresistible hooks, Brand New Eyes comes close to perfecting the emo-rock art. Still dismissing it as childish pop-rock? As Williams would probably say: chill out, have fun and stop being so old.