Smiles won’t fool the public: Paramore and Willie Nelson

Paramore – After Laughter

After four albums, including 2013’s eponymous terrific pop breakthrough, and several ex-members with a talent for litigious activity, Paramore has become one helluva efficient act: After Laughter offers twelve tunes of variable quality, each boasting at least a detail or two to appreciate; only on 2009’s Brand New Eyes have they come this close. The key is “Forgiveness,” on which Taylor York’s high life filigrees tug at Hayley Williams’ vocal and Zac Farro’s drums refuse to settle down. It may be Pro Tooled to death but it doesn’t sound like it; the musicians are listening to each other, responding like Williams no longer will to the lover from whom she withdraws sympathy but not love. Meanwhile Williams inserts aggrieved harmonies, an id disguised as superego (“I can’t give you, I can’t give you that”). “Forgiveness” is as solid and vitreous as garnet.

An instrumentalist whose arrangements adduce the six dozen crates of records no doubt in his possession and who sports the fetching-est curls since Lulu, York has been studying his Andy Cox and perhaps King Sunny Ade: the arpeggiated riff in “Told You So,” the rhythm fills in “Idle Worship.” Guitar Hero moves are as foreign to him as scowls. Although the Nickolodeon-friendly video and plink plonking pre-chorus synth on “Hard Times” might create the impression that After Laughter is an “eighties” album, Paramore aren’t necrophiliacs hunting the terrified remnants of their Dubya-era emo constituency. The interstices between joy and pain, best shown by Williams’ interjections, spoken (“He hit me with lightnin‘!”) and onomatopoetic (the baker’s dozen of ehh-ehhs and whoa-whoas); the manipulation of performative energy to sheath a stiletto in velvet — that’s what Williams, York, and Farro learned from their influences. And it’s not as if they’ve abandoned emo either: they may have written “Grudges” nine years ago but no way could they have teased this love-to-leave-you plaint with the sophistication heard in the bit here, that note at 1:01 especially.

Holding it together is Williams, writing her sharpest lyrics yet. From the rose-colored boy making noise about the world he wants to see to “I think everyone here is fake happy too,” she eschews self-conscious poetry for declarative force. This twenty-eight-year-old has lived a little; sometimes, to quote Harriet M. Welsch, you have to lie. So long as the music isn’t fake happy. Paramore have figured out what Elizabeth Bishop and Smokey Robinson learned, and what queerness has offered the world: sadness feels more genuine through the noble work of looking happy. When she does sad-sad my attention wanders, as concluding piano weeper “Tell Me How” demonstrates, although I perk up when Barro and York dominate the outro. On After Laughter no great formal feeling comes except the security that a trio at the zenith of its powers can delineate any state it wants. They’ll hit you with lightnin‘!

Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child

He’s got nerve writing a song called “It Gets Easier” — hasn’t it always been easy for you, sumbitch? For life to get easier for Willie Nelson would be like Morrissey finding new ways to loathe cows and minorities. On this pleasant throwaway, he sings covers and songs he co-wrote over text (maybe it does get easier). Only two duds: a Mike Reid number and a Merle Haggard obit that I’m glad Hag never got to hear (and as far as gnarly old-man-shaking-his-fist death ballads go, I’ll take Hag’s “That’s the News” over “Delete and Fast Forward”). One standard: “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own.”

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