We open up with lead single "Hard Times" and already we can hear a vast departure from previous releases...stripped back is the anthemic, powerful pop rock and instead we have a very restrained, almost retro, new wave pop sound...the guitar tone is incredibly tinny, the track as a whole very vibrant and fresh, very light yet despite this, clearly a song about depression and struggling...it's so up-beat, it's nothing but uplifting. "Rose-Coloured Boy" follows on immediately afterwards and it continues to use the same overall tone musically, additional synths add to the 80's feel and in ways this is very CYNDI LAUPER, which can also be said for follow-up single "Told You So"...the keyboards utilizing wood-block elements and again, a crisp, fresh sound, it's very quirky and again, a grower...this is an interesting start.
Thematically though it needs to be said that this album was born out of struggle, hardship and stress, I mentioned depression earlier and it's evident throughout...tracks such as "Fake Happy" starting so raw and sorrowful, the pretense of smiling on the outside but internally, really struggling, the reality of what people don't know when the camera's aren't rolling so to speak, when the music isn't playing, the silence is deafening and the music itself mirroring that guise of her state of mind, another bubbly pop song concealing deeper emotions... album highlight "Pool" using drowning as a metaphor for the overwhelming burdens brought on by love and heartache, yet it's so catchy! Who would have thought drowning could ever be so appealing?! "No Friend" is a shift in direction sans Hayley and instead borrows the voice of MEWITHOUTYOU vocalist Aaron Weiss, his frenetic spoken-word delivery perfectly suits the concept of mental instability and inability to function, it's quite a dark track, throwing the album a curve-ball, before we finish on "Tell Me How"...a piano-dominated ballad confirming Hayley's uncertainty of her own mental state, rounding off a very personal record.
This is a difficult album to gauge...while there are many who will be disappointed that it contains none of the traditional Paramore emo-pop swagger, there are no huge singles and the guitars are minimalistic in a typical rock sense, fans will know the deal here and understand the journey the band have been on and that this really makes perfect sense and will respect it as a result. A perfectly innocent album but rich in deeper sentiment that will surprise many...what comes after laughter may be silence, highs followed by lows, but it's those silences that can sometimes speak volumes and tell you so much more about a person, and that's what this album is about. Not Paramore as you know them but, Paramore-or-less...