It’s been a long wait for Paramore fans. After the success of their self-titled album, four years have passed until the American genre-neutral band Paramore released new music. After Laughter, Paramore’s fifth studio album, is here and it’s a punch in the face.

Paramore’s self-titled album was the first step into a new era of experimentation and doing what they felt like doing, instead of doing what people had been used to and therefore were expecting. Hits like “Still Into You” and the Grammy Award winning “Ain’t It Fun”, among others, were a glimpse of what the album was, but most importantly where they were heading to. I get it when people say they were surprised by “Hard Times” and what they call “their new sound”, but when you hear their previous album, it’s clear that After Laughter was expected to some extent, and yet, many people were expecting to hear the same.

Let’s not forget as well that Hayley grew up being a pop fan, an *NSYNC and Britney Spears fan; she played in a funk band with the now ex-Paramore member Jeremy Davis before they both joined Paramore. Taylor York is the kind of guy that listens to everything from old to new, from funk to rock, and Zac has been developing his groovy project HalfNoise for a while now… But they decided to take the pop-punk route (as they have mostly been labeled) with Paramore since they started. And that’s not to say it was a bad thing at all, that’s what was right for them back then. It was what they loved the most. It’s what brought them here. It’s what they still play at shows with the same energy and bad ass feel like before. And it’s what I certainly love the most about them; but when you have other musical tastes, why not explore them instead of framing yourself in a single genre? It’s arguable to say that they were never only pop-punk, or rock-punk, or rock, or punk, or pop because they have always gone through a mixture of them. It’s just that this time they didn’t stop there.

After Laughter is an statement, both personal and musical. It is certainly not your typical album, but Paramore has never been your typical band, has it? This is the most different album the band has done and it’s not made to make everyone like it. It’s made to let themselves express what or how they feel and do it in the way they feel good about right now, no matter what the rest say.

The opening track, “Hard Times”, certainly sets the general tone of the album with the presence of strong yet not overly dramatic drums, some guitar riffs, melodic notes and dark lyrics mixed with other less conventional instruments. The use of different instruments, like xylophones, makes the songs separate themselves even more from their past work. This approach takes them to a funkier, groovier space that certainly won’t please everyonem, especially some of the long term Paramore fans reminiscent of what Taylor and Hayley did in some tracks of the self-titled album and what Zac has done in HalfNoise. From there on, the tracks deal with more and more darkness while the music explores in different areas that range from rock to pop to funk and 80s influences from a variety of genres.

Songs like “Rose – Colored Boy” and “Pool” could be heard as the ones that sound more like pop music and that people will say “is this Paramore?”, while others like “Forgiveness”, “26” and “Tell Me How” have a softer and deeper tone, something they have done in the past with “Misguided Ghosts”, for example. The songs that set the album apart, though and yet recall more of their previous work, are those that dare to experiment the most, like “Fake Happy”, “Idle Worship” and “No Friend”. This due in part because of the use of a rock feel mixed with pretty danceable sounds and a happy tone while the lyrics tell otherwise, lyrics that are some of the darkest they have ever written but that they decided not to scream or tear apart with crazy guitar riffs and strong drums.

It is clear that this wasn’t an easy album to make. First, because it was something new musically for them. Secondly, because the lyrics of every single song show the hard times these three people, especially Hayley and Taylor, have gone through and are still fighting with. It is, as Hayley said, an album to “cry hard” at while “dancing harder”. It’s their way to deal with their demons, with their problems in real life, in a manner that at least makes their bodies move and feel some happiness.

You might argue that After Laughter is just too much of a change, that it has weird sounds and vocals that don’t fit in your musical tastes neither with Paramore nor with any other band, that this is not what Paramore used to be, that this is not an evolution and so on…

But, if there’s something true, even if you believe some of the things mentioned before, it’s that After Laughter is not a sellout or a piece of trash. This is an album that you either like or dislike. But you can’t deny the effort put into it—the musical exploration, the deep, meaningful lyrics that also happen to be dark and that find their way through the music thanks to Hayley’s versatile and powerful voice.

If Paramore only wanted more fans, more money or fame and not being criticized, they would have kept doing what made them famous in the first place, or they would have put out another “Ain’t It Fun” or “Still Into You”. They wouldn’t have waited four years to release a new album when their latest one was being a complete success. Paramore is still a band, one that has overcome all sorts of obstacles and that, despite what people say, keep creating music that impacts people not only because it is heavy or challenging or fun but because it’s meaningful. They still play their respective instruments and compose their own songs. Paramore is still a band that, no matter what, are decided to keep loving their fans and now love themselves even if it means being criticized for “changing their style”.

If you ask me if this is my favorite Paramore album, I’d have to say it is not. And I say such a thing because my musical tastes still gravitate more on the Brand New Eyes style. But as a fan, I am happy with what After Laughter is and I absolutely love it. In recent years, I have started exploring other music genres and feel more attracted to pop and indie stuff, which is why I can’t dislike After Laughter for sounding different. However, I can I understand why someone would dislike it. As a fan who has grown with Paramore, I am happy that they are still making music.

After Laughter is available now everywhere and can be listened to here.