Own It or Disown It: #275: Paramore, Riot!

OwnItorDisownIt

Paramore's breakout album turned ten years old this year. Does it hold up?

The best years of pop-punk were from 2005 through 2007. Piracy had yet to really ravage the music scene, and the tag team success of Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes provided a substantial tidal wave on which a whole bunch of shitty acts could make an easy buck. Critics, then, were eager to celebrate something a little odder than what straight pop was giving them, meaning this lesser material was met with a far kinder reception than it deserved. Yes, sir, the best years to be a pop-punk act were from this time.

The worst years of being a fan of pop-punk, then, were from 2005 through 2007. These bands were making bank, but this was the time I fell out (boy) of this scene hard. First, Panic! At The Disco dropped that first album, a series of singles aimed at the boneheaded masses that pop-punk was supposed to view as tertiary demographic. Then, Fall Out Boy dropped their third album, and while the reviews were mostly positive, those who were actually into pop-punk widely regarded it as being kinda shit. Finally, Finally, Boys Like Girls’s “The Great Escape” managed to reach the top spot on TRL in spite of being a putrid, boring mess that tried to do to songs glorifying driving around with friends what Kathy Bates did to James Caan’s foot in Misery (disclosure: I went to high school with the lead singer of Boys Like Girls, so it is possible I’m being far kinder to the song than it deserves). Between that trifecta of suck, I figured there was no better time to check out of the scene. How could I care about a Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Hello and goodbye, Hellogoodbye. Oh, yeah, Paramore, you’re going to be around for a long time, at least until your lead singer jumps ship and starts a solo career.

Ten years later and oh, God, Paramore are still around. Heck, they practically represent Generation Millennial (no matter how you define that). There’s no getting around that I should have been up on this, but I think, given the above stated, my reasoning for not getting into them is understandable, at least to a degree. Still, it doesn’t reflect well on me that I’ve dismissed them for so long, so I should correct that by giving them an honest chance, starting with their breakout effort. By that, I mean I’m going to do something I don’t like to do most of the time: give a brief write-up on every song on an album and score them on a scale from one through five, one meaning the song is garbage and five meaning it is an acceptable pick for the best song of 2007. I don’t like doing this most of the time because I like to treat albums as products of a whole rather than the sum of their parts, but then again, I like dismissing popular bands for entire decades, so maybe I should get out of my comfort zone. If Riot! can get a D- (a 60 on the grading scale of the United States; a 33 on my scale), that means there’s enough here to suggest I should give the rest of their output a chance. If they can’t cross that low bar, I’ll file them away with We Are Scientists and Test Icicles are leftovers of the mid-Aughts that can be safely ignored. Let’s get started.

#1: “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”
This sounds like a cross between At the Drive-In’s “Cosmonaut” and “Extracurricular” with the mastering turned way down, for better and worse. Going with a breakup song for an opening track sends a message that this album moves to the beat of its own drum, and while the backing composition isn’t all that great, it rocks well enough that I’m willing to give this a pass. It is Perfectly Acceptable Rock’n’Roll. 3/5

#2: “That’s What You Get”
Well, ain’t this a clear step up in quality. The song is a lot less frenetic than what preceded it, but the composition here lets the sound breathe, and the band sounds so much better for it. “Pessimist” came across as novelty, while “Get” sounds like the work of a proper band with, like, ideas. More of this, please. 4/5

#3: “Hallelujah”
Um, okay, sure, this is a love song. That’s a weird choice to put after a breakup song, but I’m suppose making music in 2007 meant you could ignore thematic through-lines in your albums because everyone’s buying MP3s, right? Otherwise, this is another strong track, supported by a great guitar line and some fine writing (“If only time flew like a dove / Well, we could watch it fly and just keep looking up”—well, I like it). 4/5

#4: “Misery Business”
This was the big breakout single for the band, the one that put them on the map, the one that is still highly regarded, and ten years later, I still don’t think it is all that great. Credit to the backing music, to be sure; replace the lead singer with Ian MacKaye and tone down the production sheen and this could’ve passed for a Repeater B-side. The problem is the high word count in the lyrics. Hayley Williams has always been a phenomenal belter, but (at least at this point) she hadn’t figured out an appealing way of navigating a minefield of words, so she settles on saying them really fast and belting out the occasional word. She’s the worst part of this otherwise-fine track, a muddled vocalist who sounds like she wants to be doing something besides what the band wants out of her. 3/5

#5: “When It Rains
Okay, so “Hallelujah” indicated that this album could be listened to as a series of singles rather than an album meant to be digested as a whole piece, but here’s a comedown track, which only makes sense if this album is meant to be digested as a whole piece rather than a series of singles. It’s a fine track, don’t get me wrong (giving Williams room to breathe seems to be an easy way of striking gold), but it gives the impression even Paramore weren’t sure how this album should be processed. The nihilist in me says the band was hedging their bets and trying to cover all bases, and I always find it annoying when a band so nakedly advertises they view their work as business above art. Still, I don’t hate this. In fact, I kind of like it. 3/5

#6: “Let the Flames Begin”
I liked this song a Hell of a lot more when it was faster and bolder and more intense and had better production and better writing and a better chorus and a better climax and came out a year prior and was by Thursday and was called “We Will Overcome”, and had better singing, too. 2/5

#7: “Miracle”
Ah, here’s a step in the right direction. Paramore sound best when they bear their teeth, and this song has some mighty bicuspids, what with its chugging lines and sharp writing (“Now I’ve gone for too long living like I’m not alive / So I’m gonna start over tonight / Beginning with you”—um, wow). Just a damn good song that probably would have succeeded as a single. 4/5

#8: “Crushcrushcrush”
I’m willing to bet that, had “Crushcrushcrush” been released as the first single, I wouldn’t need to catch up on Paramore. This has rock’n’roll swagger, a killer chorus, great writing, and a fantastic performance by Williams, who is able to convey a variety of meaningful feelings without resorting to the high word count that killed here on “Misery Business”. Easily the best song on Riot!. 5/5

#9: “We Are Broken”
“We Are Broken” is a boring song about how broken this broken band is and isn’t it sad how slow and bored and broken they sound. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, the band is at least committed to the song’s gimmick and there’s enough work put in that I can’t say it isn’t technically accomplished, but man, is this Boring Soup for the Soul. 2/5

#10: “Fences”
Another fine composition, this time leaning hard on drums, with solid writing and conviction from Williams, who does a better job of working through the high word count than she did on “Misery Business” but still hasn’t found something that works. “Fences” is unspectacular and forgettable to a degree, but it is still a step up from “We Are Broken”—at least the protagonists here are kind of interesting. 3/5

#11: “Born For This”
How joyous is “Born For This”? I’m willing to look past it ripping its most evocative line from “Liberation Frequency” by The Refused. This is the soundtrack of ripping your bedroom apart with your bear hands, and it makes for a strong closer, the second-best song here that really should have been released as a single. 5/5

In total, Riot!, by dint of my calculations, adds up to a 38 out of 55, which means it makes it over my bar, which means I should keep listening to this band. That all might come across as soft endorsement, but that’s why I don’t like grading albums as the sum of their individual tracks. Truth be told, Riot! is mostly pretty good with a some great moments and a few tracks I could live without. If I’m to understand it right, Paramore only gets better from here. Here’s hoping this is painless.

VERDICT: OWN

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