Hayley Williams didn’t spend her adolescence stalking the halls of a New England prep school. And her Christian faith probably precludes her from using the word goddamn like an indefinite article. But the flame-haired Paramore frontwoman is, without question, rock’s Holden Caulfield: There’s no limit to Williams’ disgust with phoniness in all its forms.
After building a devoted fan base through tours with the B-list emo likes of Bayside and Cute Is What We Aim For, her young suburban Nashville quintet busted out in a major way with 2007’s Riot!, a powerful little smart bomb of righteous-babe rhetoric that earned Paramore a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist alongside Taylor Swift and Amy Winehouse.
In “Misery Business,” the album’s crossover hit, Williams described a routine instance of alpha-chick warfare with the laser-guided insight of a tattooed Tina Fey. Her reward? Platinum sales and a worldwide army of Manic Panic’d lookalikes.
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The singer hunts slightly bigger game on Paramore’s follow-up, brand new eyes, which, at a moment of wet-and-wild Warped Tour cynicism (see Cobra Starship and 3OH!3), offers a principled reminder of a more earnest, honest age. In “Turn It Off,” Williams protests that “it’s getting harder to believe in anything” and rails against “shortcuts and false solutions,” while opener “Careful” urges fellow inhabitants of the Disinformation Age to “open up your eyes like I opened mine.”
In “Playing God,” she takes aim at bully-pulpit blowhards (“Next time you point a finger, I’ll point you to the mirror,” she sneers). And “Brick by Boring Brick,” the album’s philosophical centerpiece, lays out the singer’s worldview with the same degree of clarity she employed in Riot!‘s “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”: “If it’s not real, you can’t hold it in your hands / You can’t feel it with your heart / And I won’t believe it.”Sound like a drag? It’s not: A zealous onstage headbanger, Williams howls like she’s spent her 20 years on Earth internalizing old Judas Priest records. And if brand new eyes‘ killer power-ballad closer, “All I Wanted,” brings to mind the title of Kelly Clarkson’s latest album, well, Williams might be the only vocalist in rock capable of surviving the comparison. Her fresh-faced bandmates don’t leave her hanging, either, attacking their spring-loaded pop punk with the unbridled enthusiasm of DIY diehards.
Paramore recorded eyes in Los Angeles with big-rock guru Rob Cavallo (who first worked with the band on their Twilight soundtrack hit “Decode”), but unlike breakthroughs by emo predecessors My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, the album doesn’t reveal a huge leap in studio ambition. “Playing God” has some zippy new-wave harmonies, and “The Only Exception” is a surprisingly soulful acoustic number à la Parachutes-era Coldplay. Instead, the upgrade is one of focus and intensity.Last year, rumors swirled about the possible breakup of the group, and two tracks here — “Looking Up” and “Where the Lines Overlap” — play like responses to that hubbub. “God knows the world doesn’t need another band / But what a waste it would have been,” Williams wails in the former, before adding, “I can’t believe we almost hung it up.” In the latter, over a typically speedy, robo-garage groove, she admits, “No one is as lucky as us.” Given Paramore’s purity of purpose, though, luck isn’t really part of the equation.
WATCH: Paramore, “Ignorance”