twoseven rotations into Harry Styles’ self-titled debut album, and I never in my life imagined I could care this much about a member of OneDirection, ever. I was never their target demographic. But there is something otherworldly about Harry’s excellent and un-autotuned voice paired with a searing bluesy riff that I can’t quite articulate. And, in essence, I am very confused.
Ten days ago I pressed play on After Laughter, the new album from perennial faves, Paramore. I’d heard the tracks Hard Times and Told You So just days before the whole record dropped. The wait for the rest of it nearly put me in hospital. The new sonic direction, which has been subtle but steady in progress over the course of their last two releases, tapped in to something I’ve been waiting for for quite a while–the embracing of Hayley Williams as a versatile and fucking brilliant vocalist across rock and pop tracks.
To say After Laughter is an exploration of the difficulties of passing through your mid-twenties under the weight of “potential” is an understatement. Each track is laced with frustration, or an ache of the heart, body or soul. Put to the effervescence of a peppery beat and synth riffs you’d kill your own mother to hear live, you can’t help but dance while the words claw your insides. But there’s something here that doesn’t sit flush for me.
Lyrically I don’t think this is Paramore’s strongest offering, though it is incredibly radio-friendly. Grudges, Fake Happy, Told You So and Pool are absolute standouts, but too many of the rest wash over me conceptually. I genuinely believe I would have connected more to this album last year when I was in a dimly lit shoebox of sadness, but it seems like I’m not the target for this now I’ve pushed through. What a wild turn of events.
To clarify: I bloody love this album. It’s fun, and it’s bound to be incredibly important to a lot of people. But where I found my soul exposed on Brand New Eyes, After Laughter provides a toe-tapping singalong to a soundtrack I might once have found solace in.
Conversely, while he’s got a ways to go before he packs a walloping punch to my guts emotionally, Harry Styles gives me enough lusty Rolling Stones-meets-The Beatles britpop boppers (Only Angel is sublime, as is follow-up Kiwi) punctuated with soulful acoustic-driven reflections (From The Dining Table and Ever Since New York tower) to make it one of my favourite albums of 2017 so far.
I know, what the fuck?
Musically speaking, comparing these two albums is admittedly pretty unfair. While both are pop by definition, the direction and tone of each is very different. A young man fresh from the grips of one of the world’s biggest boybands explores his newfound musical freedom (and collection of guitars) to talk a lot about ladies, versus a band who’ve been through the rollercoaster of a new line-up on almost every album they’ve released since their 2007 breakthrough, Riot!, delving into the depths of their own mental health, and relationships of all kinds building and breaking. But here we are. It’s done now.
TL;DR: There are perfect pop tunes abounds on both of these albums, but weirdly, today, it’s Harry’s britpop magic over Hayley & The Gang’s synth soul.