There’s a quote in The Devil Wears Prada (no wait, this is definitely a Paramore review but stick with us here). Meryl Streep, playing the hard-ass editor of an ersatz Vogue, begins to lecture Anne Hathaway about scoffing over a shade of blue.
“You think this has nothing to do with you,” she says. “But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.” Applause-worthy savagery notwithstanding, the sentiment can certainly transfer to After Laughter.
In today’s landscape of pop, Oscar de la Renta is not one person but many indie-pop bands who, on the daily, desperately graft to try and get the attention of blogs or reach that #1 streaming status. They start to mark trends that filter down, they blend genres in the hope that a radical sound will stick. And enough major label A&Rs will be listening, enough mainstream acts will be keeping their ears out, before what they’ve started ends up in the clearance bin of a chart act who will ‘introduce’ it for mass consumption.
So apologies, then, to the likes of Fickle Friends et al as Paramore become that chart act, and they steal a march by completely reinventing their own fickle sound with all the finesse of a magpie. It’s painful to watch them get further than most purely because of the name, and no doubt there’ll be a hundred indie-pop heads in hands after this since – annoyingly – Hayley Williams and co actually succeed in making quite an enjoyable record.
And while it really is frustrating to see the Paramore name attached to the joyous tropical romps of Hard Times and Told You So, it’s also that same name that does them down. It might be a new sound but given their history, it doesn’t feel authentic at all. Instead it feels like capitalisation, one that’ll unfortunately be hailed as a brilliant sea-change by old fans and embraced by a generation who missed them the first time around.
But this sounds like we have something personal against the trio. We don’t, and there’s no denying that this record is fucking fun to spend some time with. A lot of that rests on Williams and her undeniable charm, and her perennial ability to raise a song beyond the mundane. So even while they’re taking a leaf from Chairlift on Forgiveness, or riffing on Californian shoegaze and dreamwavers like Best Coast and Hazel English on Grudges, it’s a joy to see a frontwoman given some range to stick her teeth into. And hey, at least they’re maintaining some of their old ethos on the party-pooping Fake Happy.
But we get it, Paramore. We get that you have an internet connection, and that you risked either becoming like a parody of your past self or a sub-CHVRCHES in the mainstream. So this is the way to go, and we would have bought it as well had it not been for one last slip in No Friend. This is where the trio reveal what their modern approach would actually sound like, and it is rather embarrassing to say the least. Still, it justifies why they’ve called the album After Laughter: someone else has painstakingly told the joke, they’ve eavesdropped to see which bit people enjoyed, & now they’re swooping in as the more recognised name to claim it as their own for anyone who’ll listen.