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Pop CultureMay 28, 2017

The Album Cycle: The best pop-rock front person of the 2000s is back!


The Spinoff Music team review new albums from Paramore, Harry Styles and Low Cut Connie, and a not-new album from The Beatles.

Paramore – After Laughter

The best pop-rock front person of the 2000s is back!

I’ve been a casual fan of Paramore for a decade now (gosh, that caught up with me quickly!), spanning as far back as 2007’s ‘Misery Business’ and peaking with their self-titled fourth album in 2013. The ambition and poise of those singles, ‘Still Into You’ and ‘Ain’t It Fun’, took many by surprise at the time – what’s a pop-punk trio doing with a gospel choir and a Grammy? As it turned out it was a sign of the band’s changing identity, and perhaps its rotating line-up as well. Paramore made a statement in the wake of the departure of founding members Josh and Zac Farro; the new album, After Laughter, finds Zac Farro back in the band but it now without a bassist. I’d say ‘who cares?’ – the beating heart of Paramore has always been Hayley Williams – but for the fact the line-up strife seems to be weighing heavily on her. Lyrically, After Laughter is a strikingly introspective, negative album, about trying to get over disappointment, let go of resentment and move on from the past. And what better way is there of doing so than reinventing yourself?

No one could have predicted Paramore’s transformation into 2017’s Tom-Tom Club but to use the parlance of our times, I am here for it. Lead single ‘Hard Times’ is ‘Genius of Love’ for the Trump-era, with newly-platinum powerhouse Williams as cynical as ever, but this time round demure, detached, even desolate. The album’s themes of exhaustion, depression and anxiety make a stark statement against the neo-New Wave and ‘80s sound: “For all I know / The best is over and the worst is yet to come,” sings Williams on the bouncy ‘Told You So’ and, for all the big hooks and the shiny synths, she sounds like she might believe it. – Elle Hunt


The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Eclectic art pop from Liverpool four-piece

This is the first album I ever loved. I have long considered it the first album I ever owned but the copy in question probably belonged to my parents and they just told me it was mine because I was so obsessed with it – reading along to the lyrics, carefully handling, and never-ever thinking about cutting out, the cut-out inserts. I no longer own that copy – my father was bad with money and lost the contents of an unpaid-for storage unit which included the childhood seeds of a record recollection – and I hardly ever even put the album on. I’ve internalised it to a degree that listening to it seems unnecessary. All of which is to say that I unequivocally love this record and won’t hear a bad word said against it, either from canon-deniers (who I empathise with) and I-prefer-the-early-work purists (who I do not).

It is a weird experience then, thirtyish years later, to get to rummage through the Abbey Road rubbish bins and hear the inner-workings of something I know so intimately as something complete and unassailable. The first section of this, the umteenth Sgt. Pepper’s  reissue, is a very nice sounding remix at the hands of George Martin’s son, who obviously knows what he’s doing. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the different pressings and mixes over the years (other than that the band spent lots of time on the mono version and didn’t care much about the stereo mix), but it sounds clean and clear without too much obvious fuckery. But the second section is full of alternative versions and little bits of John and Paul talking and counting. You hear the songs, obviously already written for the most part, come together. You hear what the instruments sound like on their own and what the band sound like out of tune or out of time. And I guess that’s the weirdest bit – hearing the Beatles as a band. Because they barely played live after 1966, their later albums are pristine documents of the songs they contain. They’re beautiful but hermetic. And, ultimately, I think they’re best left that way. The Beatles are those records. They’re not so much a band as a recording of a band. Why would you want them any other way? – Henry Oliver

Harry Styles – Harry Styles

Harry goes solo!

Despite being admirably short at 40 minutes all up, there’s a lot going on in Harry Styles’ debut solo album (self-titled of course). After listening to it all the way through three times in a row, I felt like I’d listened to a playlist of covers, rather than an album. That’s not a bad thing, I’ve enjoyed each listen immensely, but it’s clear that Styles isn’t quite sure what he wants his new sound to be and so has put everything in and, I presume, will move forward with the sound that connects to the largest audience. I personally found myself favouring his more stripped back numbers, ‘Ever Since New York’, and ‘Meet Me in the Hallway’ in particular. Styles as a young, perhaps vulnerable, singer-songwriter is much easier for me to get into than Styles as a Brit rocker. With that in mind, I think ‘From the Dining Table’ was a perfect and beautiful song to end a very respectable debut release. – Madeleine Chapman

Also read Millie Lovelock, who wrote her MA thesis on One Direction, on Harry Styles here.

Low Cut Connie – Dirty Pictures (Part 1)

Obama’s favourite sleazy party rock band

Prior to the release of their fourth album, Dirty Pictures (Part 1), the best description for Philadelphia rock n’ rollers Low Cut Connie was something along the lines of “like the Black Keys, if the Black Keys were an alcoholic party band fronted by Jerry Lee Lewis”. Low Cut Connie distinguished themselves from the competition by riding a rollicking piano boogie and emphasising a good time, a combination that even managed to get them featured on Barack Obama’s kinda great 2015 summer playlist.

On Dirty Pictures (Part 1) (Part 2 is slated for release next year) this basic template still holds true, but there is a depth and reflection on a handful of tracks which has not been seen before. With co-frontman Dan Finnemore moving on, pianist/bandleader/wildman Adam Weiner is left in charge, and that results in some tremendous sleazy party-time rockers, tempered by moments of reflection on the state of the world circa-2017. These moments are a nice new wrinkle for the songwriting of Weiner (especially on the lovely ballad ‘Forever’), but they also serve to highlight just how good this band is on roaring rockers such as ‘Dirty Water’ and ‘Love Life’ – all culminating in their filthy rockabilly take on the Prince classic ‘Controversy’ – where the refrain of “People call me rude / I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black or white / I wish there were no rules” could be the motto of the band. Highly recommended to anyone who likes their rock n’ roll dirty, raucous and fun. – Pete Douglas

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