Following the 2017 release of Paramore’s “After Laughter,” the band took a hiatus. After having dominated the late 2000s and early 2010s pop-punk scene, its disbandment was abrupt and indefinite. Six years later, though, Paramore is back, having processed its young fame and channeling several years of learning into its newest work, “This Is Why.”
The album puts its best foot forward with the title track. During the band’s break, singer Hayley Williams worked on her own sound, releasing her debut solo album, “Petals for Armor,” in 2020. Williams aimed for a more intimate, detailed sound on “Petals for Armor,” which is much less in-your-face than Paramore’s famously aggressive approach.
Considering “Petals for Armor” is a personal favorite of mine, I was glad to see that development echoed immediately on “This Is Why.” Its verses are closely reminiscent of Williams’ solo sound, while the choruses kick things up in classic Paramore fashion. It serves as an excellent thesis statement for the rest of the album, which combines these two idioms to various degrees.
Although aspects of Williams’ experimentation are evident in every song, they’re not exactly pervasive. Much of this album more strongly echoes Paramore’s earlier work, with additional context keeping the sound fresh.
“C’est Comme Ça” opens in this fashion, with grungy, syncopated guitar and bass supporting Williams’ brash vocal. When it moves into the verse, it drops in intensity somewhat, with the vocals taking on a muted, speech-like affect and adopting a slanted rhyme scheme.
Although I generally prefer the softer textures of something like “Petals for Armor,” I think the Paramore-esque sound of the chorus is this song’s strength. The speak-singing of the verse seems to take the wind out of its sails somewhat, and I always find myself waiting for it to get back to the chorus.
Another track that emphasizes this strength is “You First.” This has perhaps the most appeal for fans of Paramore’s early work, with a dense, harsh texture making up most of the song. Glimpses of calm exist, with a pre-chorus that lowers the intensity, but they’re fairly quickly overtaken by the chaos of the rest of the tune.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is “Liar,” which maintains a soft expression throughout. The harmonic texture is made up of arpeggiated guitar and very soft, ethereal synth chords. The drums are the loudest sound on this tune — even they are fairly restrained, mostly staying away from cymbals and keeping out of the way.
At several points in the song, it seems as though the band is about to launch into a more characteristic, bold sound. It toys with the listener’s expectations, never satisfying the feeling that something big is coming. It was somewhat distracting on the first listen, but subsequently the effect became more endearing than aggravating.
The album ends on “Thick Skull.” The tune begins low and slow, with a relaxed tempo guiding the guitar arpeggios and vocals. About a minute in, the sound picks up a little, maintaining the slower tempo, but adding piano and drums to the texture, with Williams using a brighter vocal tone.
It crescendos once more toward the end, not changing the instrumentation, but increasing the intensity. The drums become flashier, and Williams sounds as though she’s pushing her vocals into screaming range. It works well as a final homage to the Paramore we all know and love.
“This Is Why” should certainly be seen as a success by Paramore fans, even putting aside the excitement of having new music for the first time in six years. This album shows a more mature, refined sound informed by the band members’ change and growth, as well as their musical exploration during their hiatus.