Williams wails on ‘Brand New Eyes’

If pop enthusiasts have seen Paramore as a guilty pleasure since the release of the group’s first album four years ago, then they’ll be feeling slightly guiltier about “Brand New Eyes”. Paramore’s latest album, though adequate on its own, simply pales in comparison to the group’s sophomore album, “Riot!” (2007).

Paramore is the female-fronted pop-punk band that everyone is afraid to admit they love; their lyrics are just a little too adolescent, and the lead singer’s got orange hair. The overall sound of the band, with its in-your-face guitar rhythms and occasional quirkiness, could be compared to that of No Doubt or a watered-down version of Green Day.

The main draw of the group is frontwoman Haley Williams, who boasts pipes that no one else on the pop scene can rival. Her dominating presence has reviewers likening her to Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, but only because they can’t figure out what to do with such rock power from a woman. Lavigne’s shaky whine and Clarkson’s tired cry have nothing on the raw wall of sound that comes out of Williams’ mouth on every note. Possessing the bitterness and emotional commitment of an early Alanis Morissette, Williams sings like she means it.

“Brand New Eyes” is packed with plenty of Williams’ impressive vocals, but it’s actually those overused top notes that make the album less impressive than its predecessor. Everyone was so blown away by her sound on “Riot!” that they asked for more of the same, and now they’re getting too much of it. Williams doubles herself on a lot of the higher parts, which sounds promising, but ultimately weakens the vocal line.

If fans were just expecting Williams to get better after the group’s sophomore album, they’ll be disappointed. Williams’ work on “Riot!” is still the tightest and most powerful singing she’s put out yet. Her new style hearkens back to her poorly controlled and poorly supported yelp on the band’s debut album, “All We Know Is Falling.”

The tracks off of Paramore’s first two albums share a tendency to be too wordy which can be a dangerous pitfall for the band as the words aren’t always that interesting. The lyrics on “Brand New Eyes” fall into this trap. Though they are more abstract and consequently less awkward than they were in the band’s previous albums, the lyrics have a bizarre poppy angst to them that the other two didn’t.

The band’s songwriters on this album are Williams and Josh Farro, the lead guitarist. The weakest track on the album, “Playing God” which is one of the songs that Williams and Farro collaborated on with the band’s rhythm guitarist Taylor York — combines that angsty, bitter tone with a bubble gum pop sound. During the chorus, Williams sings, “Next time you point a finger I might have to bend it back/or break it, break it off” while some very bouncy chords bop along underneath her — a juxtaposition that is just uncomfortable.     

It is certainly noteworthy that the first single off the album, “Ignorance,” grabs the listener’s attention and rocks as hard as any of the best singles off of “Riot!.”  Williams spits her words out with a clever bitterness that’s mirrored in the heavy drums and guitar parts, and Paramore’s signature duets are here in full force. 

“Misguided Ghosts” is another strong track, but for entirely different reasons — it’s Paramore’s attempt at a lighter, indie sound. Everything from the recording style to the arrangement starkly contrast with the rest of the album and, indeed, with all of Paramore’s releases up to date. The first minute features two guitars plucking out a folky rhythm that bring to mind Sufjan Stevens’ guitar work on “Illinois” (2005) and a heavily humbled Williams baring her soul by, surprisingly, not yelling about it. Listeners will certainly be impressed with the band’s newfound flexibility; no one would have predicted a sound like this from Paramore four years ago when the band first started recording.

Fans might be harsh on the band for “Brand New Eyes,” but only because they still love “Riot!” so much (though they might not admit how much). Paramore has certainly done better, but at the end of the day, they’re still Paramore, and they can be trusted to melt some faces no matter what.