We gave it an A-
Ah, 2005: When MySpace was the most relevant social network; Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond; and a pair of scrappy underdog bands, Paramore and Fall Out Boy, were crossing paths on the annual roaming youth-aggression rock carnival known as the Vans Warped Tour. At the time, FOB were already established hitmakers, buoyed by the massive crossover success of ”Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down”; the lesser-known Paramore — led by a then-16-year-old Tennessee spitfire named Hayley Williams — had just released their debut and hadn’t made it to the main stage yet, but they would be there soon.
Eight years, a handful of platinum smashes, and a thousand pop-radio micro-trends later, both bands are back in decidedly updated iterations: FOB’s Save Rock and Roll is out April 16, and Paramore’s Paramore was released April 9. Each gamely takes on the Sphinxian riddle ”What happens when punk kids grow up?”
Since we last saw them, adulthood has brought humbling experiences for FOB co-centerpieces Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz — both professional (Stump’s well-intentioned but DOA solo career) and personal (Wentz’s divorce from Ashlee Simpson). There’s not much psychological processing on Save Rock and Roll, but it does advance FOB’s vision of an über-inclusive guitar-pop utopia: Album opener ”The Phoenix” delivers a jagged death-disco groove, and rapper Big Sean stops by to spit some welcome swagger over the exquisitely sample-heavy ”The Mighty Fall.” Rock and Roll‘s Jenga tower only tumbles when FOB’s reach exceeds their grasp, as it does on the blustery soccer-chant screamer ”Young Volcanoes” and the Courtney Love-assisted sprawler ”Rat a Tat.”
At 17 tracks, Paramore’s self-titled release seems like it should also be a textbook victim of its creators’ self-indulgence — but in fact it comes off like the great Blondie-indebted 21st-century new-wave album that No Doubt were trying to make with 2012’s Push and Shove. The acrimonious 2010 exit of Josh Farro and his brother Zac left Williams without her primary songwriting partner, and though she doesn’t address the split explicitly, there’s a lot here about stumbling through the quagmires of adulthood: Funked-up keyboard party ”Ain’t It Fun” finds Williams flagellating herself for thinking independence would be easy, and on the slow-burning supernova ”Last Hope” she realizes the folly of planning for your 20s (”I thought I would be happy by now”).
Eight years is an epoch in punk time, and neither Fall Out Boy nor Paramore were going to stay young forever. Getting older is unavoidable, but maturity is a choice — and while FOB are tentatively inching their way into the next era, Paramore are making evolutionary leaps into something both refreshingly well-adjusted and genuinely new. Save Rock and Roll: B Paramore:A-
BEST TRACKS: Fall Out Boy’s ”The Phoenix” ? Paramore’s ”Ain’t It Fun” and ”Proof”