Music Review: Paramore – Brand New Eyes (2009)
I'm probably the least qualified person on the site to be writing this review, yet I'm doing it anyway.
I’m one of the very few people who managed to completely avoid Paramore’s music until earlier this year. 2007’s “Misery Business” was a huge hit, they’ve had a handful of smaller hits since 2004/2005, and “Decode” (from the Twilight soundtrack) more or less made the band explode with popularity…so, the fact that I’d never even heard a Paramore song until April of 2010 is a little strange. I listen to a lot of hip-hop, and hip-hop and Paramore just don’t cross paths all that often — for the longest time, I just figured that Paramore was another Fall Out Boy/Panic at the Disco clone except their gimmick was that they have a female lead singer.
All of those thoughts were thrown out the window when B.o.B’s Airplanes first leaked. If you’re not up to date on your pop music, Paramore’s Hayley Williams sings the chorus of that song (and does it very well). That day is when I decided to give Paramore a shot and it was also the first time I wished youtube videos automatically repeated themselves; I must’ve watched the Misery Business video fifty times that day. It’s probably the catchiest song I’ve ever heard.
“Misery Business” was from their 2007 album Riot!, and on Brand New Eyes there’s no track as catchy as “Misery Business” or even “CrushCrushCrush“. This is still a fairly poppy album, but it’s nowhere near as poppy as Riot! was; with Brand New Eyes, Paramore seem to be aiming for a slightly older demographic than the teenagers they were going for with the 2007 album. The music is less in-your-face than it used to be; everything just seems a little more polished and perhaps better produced than their two previous efforts. That said, Brand New Eyes is still very much a Paramore album. If you hated Paramore before this, it will not make you change your mind about them. The change in sound is for the most part a subtle one, not drastic. This isn’t Paramore’s 808s and Heartbreak.
The actual music sounds more mature, and the lyrics are also more mature than the two albums that came before it. I get the feeling that when most people out of high school listened to the lyrics in a song like “Misery Business” they rolled their eyes a little bit. That song was basically just about getting back at an enemy in high school; it wasn’t exactly what I’d consider deep. Riot! also had tracks like “When It Rains” and “We Are Broken” — even though I really like both of those songs, how “broken” can Hayley Williams possibly be? Maybe I just have a hard time sympathizing with platinum-selling rock stars. On Brand New Eyes, that type of complaining is pretty much eliminated. There’s still not really anything philosophical here, but there’s no doubt that lyrically this album is deeper than anything else Paramore has done up to this point.
“Careful“ opens the album up, and this is a curious decision to say the least. If Brand New Eyes was my first time listening to Paramore, I would’ve turned it off after ten seconds and never listened to them again. Musically it’s standard pop-punk Paramore stuff, but the way Hayley opens this song is awful. Of everything I’ve heard from her, I can’t think of a time where she’s been worse than on the first few lines of this song. Her singing throughout the whole song is just inconsistent; when she’s singing at the top of her lungs, it hurts my ears a little bit. When she’s quieter (“…you make your way in, I resist you just like this..”, “The truth never set me free…”), the song is excellent. Overall I like the song, but not as an opener.
What should have been the opening song actually comes second, “Ignorance“. This is probably the most energetic song Paramore has ever done (if not, it’s #2 right below Misery Business). If this doesn’t get you pumped for the rest of the album, nothing will. This also marks the only time I can think of where a Paramore song actually sounds angry. Even as Hayley sang “We’re better off without you” in “Pressure“ (regarding bassist Jeremy Davis, who quit the band at the time), that song still sounds somewhat happy. “Ignorance” doesn’t hold anything back — Hayley is pissed and the guitars help emphasize that anger. In a way, this reminds me of “One Mic” by Nas. Each verse starts out a little slow and quiet, but as time goes on it gets louder and angrier. For the record, this doesn’t mean I think “Ignorance” is on the same level of “One Mic”. “One Mic” is one of the best rap songs ever recorded, and “Ignorance” is a very solid but definitely not legendary song. I figured some hip-hop fan would read the comparison and go crazy, so I thought it would be best to include a little bit of a disclaimer there.
Up next comes the first “deep” song of the album, “Playing God“. Like I said earlier, it’s not that deep but it at least has more substance than most pop-punk songs you’ll hear. This is also the first real example on the album of the mature sound that Paramore is going for — slower and easier on the ears, but still far from the slowest song on this album. Like “Ignorance”, Hayley is mad again; but instead of full-out anger, she expresses her frustration in a sarcastic, annoyed tone of voice. This is probably one of my least favorite tracks on the album, but that’s more of a testament to how much I like this album rather than how little I like this song.
The deepest song Paramore has ever done is the second single from this album, “Brick By Boring Brick“. Some people have written articles analyzing this song that are probably longer than my whole review for this album. I never thought I’d see Paramore connected to the Illuminati, but whatever. I think the song has a more simple explanation than that article does — Hayley is burying her past and everything that goes with it, which is why in the music video you see her toss the doll into the grave after the girl falls in. As for the music itself, Brick By Boring Brick stays pretty close to Paramore’s pop-punk roots. I really like this, but I think it could be about 30 seconds shorter.
A much easier-to-understand song comes next, “Turn It Off“. This is probably my favorite track on the album. Hayley’s words just flow seamlessly with each other, but for the first time in this review I want to talk about drummer Zac Farro. He’s very good here, and he’s almost always very good — when people think of Paramore, 99.9% of people think of Hayley Williams first since she’s by far the most charismatic member of the band. That’s somewhat justified, but Zac Farro is probably just as talented as she is. Zac is easily the most talented guy in Paramore. He’s not the best drummer of all-time or anything, but for pop bands he’s right at the top of the list. The only “pop rock” drummer who is better than Zac Farro is probably Travis Barker.
Since “The Only Exception” is next, that means we’re going from my favorite song on the album to my least favorite. This is the only song on Brand New Eyes that I flat-out don’t like. I have no issues with Paramore’s slower songs — “Franklin” is awesome, “My Heart” is good up until the stupid screamo part, I already talked about how I liked “When It Rains” and “We Are Broken” despite not really feeling the lyrics, and “Misguided Ghosts” (later in this album) owns. But this song is just cheese overload; it almost makes me cringe. The music video doesn’t help either…I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything cheesier in a music video than Hayley Williams laying in a pile of valentine’s cards. I know this is really popular, but it’s just not my thing. Even though it seems like I hate this song, if I heard this come on the radio I probably wouldn’t change the station…”The Only Exception” is still miles better than whatever new Black Eyed Peas song is poisoning the airwaves.
After a quick dip with “The Only Exception”, Paramore goes back to their normal style with “Feeling Sorry“. And when I say they “go back”, I mean this sounds like a leftover from Riot!. It doesn’t feel like it fits with the sound of Brand New Eyes, but I’m not really complaining. Even though it may seem like I’ve been bashing Riot!, I really enjoyed it for what it was: a catchy pop-punk album that was just lacking in substance a little bit.
The next track “Looking Up” also seems to sound a little bit like Riot!, but not quite as much as “Feeling Sorry” did. It’s a song about Paramore admitting that they were pretty stupid for almost self-destructing after Riot! was released. Eventually they realized, “Wait. We’re one of the biggest bands in the world right now, we would’ve killed for this a few years ago. WTF are we doing?”. The false ending is a little symbolic in that you think the song’s over (just as Paramore was almost inevitably going to be broken up before this album), but then the song comes back even harder than before. By the way, the bridge in this song (“God knows the world doesn’t need another band…”) is awesome.
A similar-sounding song to the two above, “Born For This 2” “Where the Lines Overlap” comes next, and just like “Born For This” from Riot! this seems to be tailor-made specifically for live shows. Even though the studio version isn’t quite as good as the live version, there’s still something that I really like about it. The only issue I have with this song is a pretty stupid one — I don’t like the bragging. This sounds ridiculous since I listen to rappers like Nas and Raekwon who brag all the time, but for whatever reason when Hayley Williams sings “No one is as lucky as us…we’re not at the end line, but we already won” it annoys me a little bit. But like I said, it’s just a small issue and it doesn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the song.
The acoustic “Misguided Ghosts” comes in as the second to last song on the album, and as I mentioned earlier I like it a lot more than “The Only Exception” as far as slow songs go. This is a huge change of pace for the band; if someone was to hear this song on the radio without listening to this album first, chances are that they’d never guess this was Paramore. Still, out of any song on Brand New Eyes this has the second to least amount of plays for me. This is the type of track that I can appreciate and I have no problems with it, but unless I’m listening to the album straight through I never listen to this song.
Near the beginning of this review I talked about how Hayley opened the album on the worst note possible, but she does the complete opposite to close the album out. I guess it’s possible that she’s done a better song than “All I Wanted” on one of their B-sides, but as far as Paramore’s albums go this is easily the best I’ve heard from her. The part about two and a half minutes in where she goes a cappella for a second is ridiculous. Paramore definitely picked the right song to close out the album.
If I had to rank the songs from my favorite to least-favorite, my list would look like this:
- Turn It Off
- Where the Lines Overlap
- Looking Up
- Brick By Boring Brick
- All I Wanted
- Feeling Sorry
- Playing God
- Misguided Ghosts
- The Only Exception
Assuming Paramore doesn’t have another breakdown and decide to split up, I’m really interested to see where they go from here. Except for 25-year-old bassist Jeremy Davis, every member of the band is in their very early 20s. I’m hoping Hayley was right in “Looking Up” when she said, “we’re just getting started”. Years down the road, this album could be seen as a turning point for the band: I’m hoping this is where they stopped targeting specifically teenagers with their music and instead went for more mature audiences.
I typically give a score to everything I review, but for Brand New Eyes I’m not going to do that. It’s not possible for me to decide on a score. Theoretically scores should be based on how much I repeatedly listen to an album, right? I mean if I listen to something over and over and over again, that must mean I really like it. But if I scored albums like that, Brand New Eyes would get a 10/10 because it is one of my top 5 listened to albums on iTunes right now. But since I had quite a few complaints with the album, there’s no way I’d be able to give it a 10 in good conscience. Similarly, if I gave this anything less than a 10 I feel like that score wouldn’t represent how I really feel about this album. If I had ten albums to bring with me on a deserted island, Brand New Eyes would definitely be one of them.