Easily the band's most adventurous, experimental, and accomplished release to date, Paramore's fourth studio album, 2013's eponymously titled Paramore, is a landmark, a genre-breaking masterwork that, like Madonna's Like a Prayer or U2's Achtung Baby, finds Paramore crystallized into the seminal, cogent rock band we always knew they'd grow up to be. For this release, Paramore worked with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, whose previous production credits include artists like Neon Trees and M83. Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a band that developed alongside labelmates like Fall Out Boy, but the first-time pairing explodes with chemistry, coalescing the group's grand emotionality and ridiculously tight hooks with ever new and genius musical avenues, like electronica and even orchestral flourishes. The idea that your songs should only include instrumentation that you can pack into your tour van is a practical limitation that for plenty of bands, especially those of the punk ethos, can become a downright philosophical limitation. But when original guitarist and drummer Zac and Josh Farro left the band in 2010, Paramore were forced to allow vital roles in their sound to be filled with hired professionals rather than actual bandmembers -- after all, they needed somebody to play drums. This clearly opened the band up to exploring all other manner of possibilities in the studio that they could not reasonably fit into a van or reproduce in a garage, like a board full of subtly perfect synth intonations or, in the case of one song (the immediate classic "Ain't It Fun"), a gospel choir. The change represents more than just growth; it's transcendence. Paramore have made the album of their career.
The record's collaborative foundation crackles on every track, but Hayley Williams, a ballsy, extroverted frontwoman with a voice big enough to stop time, proves unequivocally to be the cunning talent of the band, no matter how vital York and Davis may be. Whether she is belting out a do-or-die alt-rock anthem like "Now" or cooing coyly on three ukulele-backed "Interludes," Williams imbues each song with a robust charisma and relentlessly positive attitude. While longtime Paramore fans will recognize the driving, no-holds-barred attack of cuts like "Daydreaming," "Anklebiters," and "Part II," the album also soars on the band's newfound use of keyboards, programming, and York's often thickly layered, heavily effected guitar. Without a doubt, even a newcomer to Paramore's music is in rapturous danger of being up all night after listening to this disc, possessed by each track's driving, perfect hook. But knowing about the drama that precipitated the album only adds further dimension, not to mention a sense of vicarious satisfaction for Paramore's glorious triumph over inter-band adversity. After all, the Farros didn't just leave, they also caused a big stink the day after announcing their departure, posting a mean-spirited diatribe about their former bandmates on the Internet. The fact that Paramore went on to not just put themselves back together, but create the best work of their entire musical tenure -- a work lyrically inspired by the Farros leaving, and unimaginable as having been stylistically possible with them still in the band -- is a revenge fantasy that would seem too sweet to be true if it weren't laid out for us all to hear. Paramore is a veritable pop opera about a band reborn, phoenix-like from the ashes of a broken lineup, better and stronger than any previous incarnation. ~ Matt Collar