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Paramore's Albums, Ranked
one excellent band, six rankable albums
A few months ago, Paramore released their sixth album, This Is Why. In just over a week, I’ll see them when they perform in Detroit.1 Seems like it’s time to rank their albums, doesn’t it? It does.
6. All We Know is Falling (2005)
Saying that Paramore’s first album sounds like a pop-punk band’s first album is both redundant and also kind of illuminating? The production is thin, the songs are mostly straightforward, and yet there are a few memorable moments that hint at something greater. That could describe the debut album of nearly any great pop-punk band of the era, from New Found Glory’s Nothing Gold Can Stay, to Fall Out Boy’s Take This to Your Grave, to The Starting Line’s Say It Like You Mean It.2 All We Know is Falling is not without its charms—I’ll never stop laughing about / loving the screaming in “My Heart”—and “Pressure” holds up as a quality single. 18 years later, this record sounds nothing like what Paramore became, but the lessons it taught us—that Hayley Williams could really fucking sing and that she had real promise as a songwriter—turned out to have been spot on.
5. This is Why (2023)
There’s a chance that I’ll be reevaluating This is Why as a masterpiece in a few years, just like I did with HAIM’s Women in Music, Pt. III which I described as “the least accessible and [least] radio-friendly of HAIM’s three albums” at its release, only to later realize that I absolutely love that record. The title track of This is Why screams and shouts about not wanting to leave the house, but it’s the rest of the record that actually sounds like someone who doesn’t want to leave the house. It’s funky and meandering and occasionally difficult in a way that doesn’t always hold my attention, and yet when I focus in on it, I’m almost always impressed by the depth of the songwriting and arrangements. With its twitchy rhythms and understated melodies, This is Why feels like a natural progression from both 2017’s After Laughter and the two solo albums that Williams has dropped since 2020, but that progression has started to move away from many of the core elements that made me fall in love with Paramore in the first place. Still, even though This is Why hasn’t hit for me yet, I can’t shake the feeling that, someday, it will.
4. Paramore (2013)
If All We Know is Falling was from a band that had some growing up to do, then Paramore was from a band that was smack in the middle of doing it.3 The album is too long by half a dozen tracks, bloated by some filler that doesn’t add much, some experiments that don’t quite work. And yet, Paramore feels brave to me. It’s reckless and adventurous and exploratory in a way that no other Paramore record is. “Last Hope” is arguably the album’s best track and almost certainly my favorite from the band’s entire catalog,4 and then there are the possibly clichéd but certainly charming ukulele interludes, the faux-gospel outro of “Ain’t It Fun,” the tender “Hate to See Your Heart Break,”5 the comic “(One of Those) Crazy Girls,” the pure-pop “Still Into You,” and the (underwhelming) post-rock of “Future.” This is a band trying out a lot of things! Paramore really went for it here and while some of that reaching falls short, some does achieve its aims and the entire album—and band—is better for it.
3. After Laughter (2017)
Paramore Goes ‘80s was a cool vibe, particularly through some very fun music videos. After Laughter punches hard with pop songs out of the gate, but the aesthetic joy of those tracks is misleading: This is a bleak album. Where This is Why is introspective and somewhat navel-gazing, After Laughter is hurt and painful and just plain fucking sad. “26” is maybe the most bummed-out song about being in your mid-twenties that I’ve ever heard, and “Tell Me How” is an absolute gut-punch with lines like this:
I can’t call you a stranger / but I can’t call you / I know you think that I erased you / you may hate me, but I can’t hate you / and I won’t replace you / tell me how to feel about you now / … / keep me up with your silence / take me down with your quiet / of all the weapons you fight with / your silence is the most violent / tell me how to feel about you now
After Laughter’s packaging and presentation may be bright and vibrant, but spiritually the album is dark and melancholic, centered on the presumably miserable experience of Williams’ divorce. Somehow, the result is an absolutely fantastic record. I’d argue that there’s some value in each Paramore album, but I’d also argue that the band has three truly excellent records. I’ve got After Laughter slotted in third today, but you could justify any order of the three.
2. Brand New Eyes (2009)
Every song on Brand New Eyes is a pop-punk classic, including massive hit “The Only Exception” which is possibly the most famous pop-punk ballad of all time. Songs like “Careful,” “Ignorance,” and “Brick by Boring Brick” were big hits because they thrash in the way the best pop-punk tracks do, while the deeper cuts are equally memorable, particularly finale “All I Wanted,” which developed such a cult following that it got a Rolling Stone writeup when the band finally played it live for the first time earlier this year. If Riot! is how most people learned about Paramore, then Brand New Eyes is how they came to love them. This record is wall-to-wall bangers with one generational ballad dropped in for good measure; what else could you want from a rock band?
1. Riot! (2007)
In 2023, this feels like an incorrect choice for the top spot on this list—I’m old now and pop-punk isn’t mature! the band stopped playing the album’s biggest and most problematic hit for years!—but I can’t resist Riot! which is one of the greatest pop-punk records ever recorded, up there with New Found Glory’s self-titled, Cartel’s Chroma, and The Academy Is…’s Almost Here. Every song is a classic in its own right, even the semi-canceled “Misery Business” which is a nasty bit of high school misogyny and also a ripping single. There were other huge hits here, too,6 and while songs like “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic,”7 “Fences,” and “Born for This” weren’t big singles, they’re among the band’s best tracks.8 The legend of Paramore began with Riot! and, for all they’ve done since, I’d argue it’s still their most rewarding release.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the first time I saw Paramore live, they were touring in promotion of All We Know Is Falling, opening for Acceptance, The Receiving End of Sirens, and Cartel, which is just a murder’s row of bands that I’m happy to have seen. That they toured together—and that Paramore was the opener!—feels patently insane in retrospect.
Cartel, as they often were, is the exception here. (The only exception!? Sorry, I had to.) Chroma rips, though you could argue that the theory I’m suggesting here does apply to their debut EP, The Ransom. (The title track of The Ransom is straight fire, though.)
And they knew it! There’s a song called “Grow Up” and everything.
The song’s most powerful line is also logically backwards in a way that should be infuriating to me, only the song is so damn good that I can’t be mad about it. In the song’s emotionally climactic bridge, Williams sings:
“and the salt in my wounds / isn’t burning any more than it used to / it’s not that I don’t feel the pain / it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore”
The sentiment, I think, comes through loud and clear: The narrator has found some peace, through letting go. Things are still hard, still painful, but she’s found a way to manage. Of course, the words aren’t quite lined up properly, are they? Shouldn’t it be that she’s in this improved state even though the salt in her wounds isn’t burning any less than it used to, i.e. she’s not in this improved state because things are easier but rather because she’s grown? Alas.
(As an addendum, I’ll note that this happens from time to time, to even the most talented of writes. A few of my good friends had an excellent band while we were in high school—hi guys!—and one of their principal lyrics, emblazoned on shirts and hoodies and everything else, was of the same ilk: “No trust when the virus feeds the medicine.” That sounds cool as hell! I get it! And yet, to hit the intended target, I think we gotta flip the virus and the medicine, boys.)
At the time of Paramore’s release, I read a review which I couldn’t find to link here but that suggested that “Hate to See Your Heart Break” would become this generation’s “Landslide.” One of the unexpected twists of contemporary internet life that seemed implausible even a decade ago, is that old things have become perpetually new. And now it sure feels like “Landslide” is going to be this generation’s “Landslide” as well as the “Landslide” for every generation after, doesn’t it? And if any Paramore track has entered that pantheon, it’s gotta be “The Only Exception.”
Back in 2009, I pounded the shit out of some plastic drums banging out the beats to “That’s What You Get” and “crushcrushcrush” in Rock Band. Hell yeah.
One of my favorite moments in the entire Paramore catalog is during the bridge of “Pessimist,” when things get really chunky, a sick finger tapping solo starts shredding, and a harmonized Williams absolutely incinerates legions of emo boys by belting out, “why don’t you stand up, be a man about it / fight with your bare hands about it.” Perfection. No notes.
Even the deepest of cuts, songs like “When It Rains,” would have been among the strongest entries on lesser bands’ records.