Label: Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic
Buy It: Amazon
1. For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic
2. That’s What You Get
4. Misery Business
5. When It Rains
6. Let the Flames Begin
9. We are Broken
11. Born For This
We’re a little late on this one, I confess. Riot! blew up last year, and no review really matters anymore. Everyone has pretty much made up her mind about Paramore by now, and Indie Vision Music cannot further their path to stardom any more than it can hinder it. With that said, here are some reasons I believe I am uniquely qualified to review this release:
1. I own a lot of pop/pop-punk music and enjoy it very much.
2. I’ve actually always dreamed of creating a band like Paramore that comes out of an independent punk (sort of) scene and makes songs everyone wants to hear on their (satellite) radios.
3. I saw the band live, and John Mayer came out and played on “When It Rains.” I cannot think of anything that might incline me to be kinder to a band than that.
4. This review will not contain a single reference (beyond this sentence) to how incredibly gorgeous I think Hayley Williams is, and the reason for this is that my answer is “not inordinately so.” This makes me unique among all “males of the male species of being men.”
The record kicks off with “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic.” This song is patently okay. I don’t know why they open with it live; its chorus is actually pretty boring, relying on the verses to hold it up. I can’t deny that this is somewhat enjoyable, but by the time they’ve rhymed “stand up, be a man about it” with “fight with your bare hands about it,” I’m raising my eyebrows. Williams’ voice is fun, but nothing particularly interesting musically happens, outside of the interesting guitar parts on the bridge. This song doesn’t really say anything about the rest of the album. After hearing it, you will not have more love for Riot!, but nor will you hate it. It’s just there, and it’s decent.
From here the record begins its golden stage. “That’s What You Get” (as heard on Rock Band!) makes me swoon in joyous ecstasies for its beautiful pop hooks and glistening (if simplistic) guitars. If you don’t enjoy this song, you are a mutant zombie. “Hallelujah,” evidently the second single in Britain (?), was written for the band’s previous record, All We Know Is Falling, but saved for here, and this decision is proved an excellent one. It’s a fist-pumping anthem, much like “Let the Flames Begin,” a driving rock song that is everything the record’s opener isn’t quite, with lyrics like “This is how we’ll dance when they try to take us down; this is what will be our glory” and another atmospheric and well-crafted guitar part. In between these lies “When It Rains,” an affecting ballad that puts all pretenders to shame. Possibly the best song on the album, “When It Rains” is just as enjoyable on record as live, and considering John Mayer played and sang parts of the track live, that’s a pretty high compliment. (Yeah, I really like John Mayer. Whatcha gonna do ’bout it?) Williams’s voice is at its most emotive here, and the subdued passion is praiseworthy. The first half of Riot! is thus shown to be mostly composed of very solid material. Well and good.
The second half, however, does not fare so well. There’s a lot of filler here, including the listless “Fences” (which, apart from giving Jeremy Davis his best chance to find something interesting to do, is a little too cutesy to really be the caustic lyrical work it’s attempting to be) and “Miracle,” which suffers from trite lyrics (ex. “I’ve gone for too long living like I’m not alive” and “We’ve tied our pain below, and no one ever has to know that inside we’re broken”) and awkward arrangement during the chorus, though it’s partially redeemed by an excellent bridge. “Born For This” is a decent fan anthem till it blatantly and shamelessly alludes to the band’s own “Pressure” in the chorus, which comes off as incredibly tacky. “We are Broken” and second single “crushcrushcrush” are the standouts, but even they don’t really measure up to the best of the first half. The latter has some really nice pre-choruses, but the actual chorus gets a bit boring with all the guitars that are simply letting notes ring out half the time, killing the song’s foreboding energy. The “rock and roll, hey, don’t you know…” section is golden, though. The second half of the record is not without its bright spots, but overall it can’t quite hit the mark.
“Misery Business” is the song that skyrocketed the band to stardom. They close their shows with it, it still gets the most radio play, and, presumably, it has its lyrics on the most adolescent girls’ LiveJournals. I think this is a travesty. The song is, first of all, not all that good. It’s got an annoying chorus that can’t measure up to those of “That’s What You Get” and “Let the Flames Begin.” It’s based on a guitar part that gets old long before the song ends. In the verses, Williams spouts lyrics faster than she can sing them, so she winds up sort of muttering them, which sounds ridiculous. But none of these are the real reason I dislike this song so much.
That reason is that the song becomes everything it’s railing against. If the stereotypical vice of young men is lust, the stereotypical vice of young women is jealousy, and this song bites the stereotype hard. “Misery Business” is about a girl who dated a guy and how Williams steals him back, always making sure to manipulate the guy’s position for the sake of antagonizing the rival (“But God does it feel so good, ’cause I’ve got him where I want him now”) and to continue the cycle of enmity (“Once a whore, you’re nothing more; I’m sorry that will never change”) and arrogance over perceived victory (“I watched his wildest dreams come true, not one of them involving you”). This is painful to even listen to. Williams describes “a million other girls who do it just like [her rival],” how they maneuver themselves into relationships through perceived innocence, and how she refuses to be that person, not realizing that the hate, bitterness, jealousy and sheer gloating penned in this song could have come from any one of those million girls. It should be rejected as such. I mean, this band wrote “Emergency,” a single about the power of love in dark times, and this was their follow-up? Really? Williams later apologized for the song’s vernacular use of “God,” but far more sinister is the perception that throwing forgiveness away and using people to achieve perceived victory is something that anyone should consider acceptable.
Enough of this madness. Riot!‘s pretty good if you like that sort of thing. There’s a fair bit of filler, but the standout tracks are golden. If the band doesn’t achieve greater consistency next time around, they may find themselves pigeonholed as a band for today’s teenagers and a one-hit wonder, but in either case, Riot! will certainly find itself crossing paths with my CD player from time to time.
Solid, but not as remarkable as most thought.
Standout Tracks: “That’s What You Get,” “Hallelujah,” “When It Rains,” “Let the Flames Begin”
RIYL: Holy Roman Empire, pop music, Hayley Williams.