To listen to Paramore is, at least for a non-observer of the genre, to learn how little so-called “emo” has changed over the years: the stop-start choruses, chunky strummed basslines, multi-tracked backing vocals, quick dips into sodden balladry—all part of a structure in place since the early ‘00s heyday of Taking Back Sunday and Coheed and Cambria. It’s also an opportunity, at least on Brand New Eyes, to hear how these tropes, while not made new or even subverted, can still yield relatively impressive results.
Paramore imposes a lot of small twists on the emo formula, which helps to maximize its potential. For one, the band is fronted by a woman, which means that the requisite leaps into impassioned emoting aren’t accompanied by cinched, whiny vocals. Hayley Williams can sing—not amazingly, but well enough to push the band into the upper bracket of the genre. That she often resorts to unnecessary stabs at conformity like tough growls, yelps, and other vocal stunts keeps the album from actually reaching those heights.
It’s worth remembering that, though Brand New Eyes is their third album, Paramore is still a very young band, its members ranging in age from 19 to 24. Considering how far they’ve come since 2005’s All We Know Is Falling, itself not worthy of much attention, there’s still plenty of time and space for growth. It’s not likely that Paramore will ever be great. With platinum sales, they’re already too entrenched as a product, and the stopgaps imposed on creativity, both by their status and the vagaries of the teen market, are substantial. But Paramore’s status sustains them, providing both a stylistic pattern from which to work and a crowd from which to stand out.
Rough edges, like the curt bathos of the lyrics (which repeatedly mistake brusqueness for wit), may be improved in the future. Either way, the band’s music is already as Fallout Boy’s, without nearly as much of the put-on faux cleverness. There are frustrating tendencies toward the screechingly dramatic, but this is emo, after all. And though lines like “Next time you point a finger/I’ll point you to the mirror” on “Playing God” are certainly not as clever as the band thinks think they are, in this environment they have the dual purpose of exuding a somewhat charming naiveté.
It’s this interplay between cheesy and catchy that makes Brand New Eyes a worthy genre time-capsule piece. The lyrics of a song like “The Only Exception” may be irredeemably over-the-top, even over bare acoustic guitar and piano, but its vocal melodies are the stuff of perfect pop, making one wish that it could have been sung in another language. Bonus track “Decode,” originally from the Twilight soundtrack, is equally appetizing juvenilia, a chugging invective dyed black by ominous minor-chord piano notes. These kinds of touches prefigure a band that, even if mired in perpetual adolescence, will probably still be worth a listen.