It feels like only yesterday when Paramore and their Warped Tour peers were the patron saints of our teenage angst, when we could only dye sections of our hair with bright colors over summer vacation because school wouldn’t allow it, when we relentlessly scribbled their lyrics onto our notebooks and Starbucks planners and made them our statuses on Yahoo! Messenger (when we weren’t “invi,” that is).
“Riot!,” Paramore’s second release which celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, defied all notions of a sophomore slump. While not the most commercially successful of the band’s albums in retrospect, “Riot!” was the record that catapulted Paramore into the spotlight, earning them their first Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2008. (If you need another reminder of exactly how old we are, Taylor Swift was nominated for the same category that year, but both eventually lost to Amy Winehouse.)
Their debut, “All We Know Is Falling,” holds up to this day with songs like Pressure, Emergency, and My Heart still tugging at our emo heartstrings, but it sustains the same tone all throughout, rendering it excusable as a first album. Riot!, on the other hand, was where the anthems were born and where the Farro brothers’ musicianship finally started catching up with Hayley Williams’ commanding vocal range.
“Riot!” sporadically ranges from mellow to aggressive in its eleven-track span, unabashedly opening with For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic. Lyrically, the songs in the album move from angry personal narratives (Misery Business) to several anthemic calls to arms (Let the Flames Begin, Hallelujah, We Are Broken, Born for This), and even a somber response to suicide (When It Rains, which, admittedly, my high school freshman self couldn’t comprehend at the time). Bear in mind that the band’s median age when Riot! came out was eighteen, and they managed to collate and mold raw energy and emotion into an album that would become a defining moment not only in their careers but in the so-called scene kids’ lives, as well.
Coming of age with Paramore’s brand of punk rock allowed us to feel so burdened and broken as if we’d experienced all the world’s ills and our small bodies couldn’t contain it, hence we channeled them into angsty outbursts. When Williams sang “I’ve seen love die way too many times when it deserved to be alive” (Emergency) or questioned “Can you remind me of a time when we were so alive? / Do you remember that?” (Franklin) in “All We Know Is Falling” with a level of wistfulness that could have been questionable at thirteen, we still felt it. When “Riot!” adopted levels of both confidence and cynicism alongside a better comprehension of how the world works, with lyrics like “Pain, make your way to me / And I’ll always be just so inviting” (That’s What You Get) or “This is how we dance when they try to take us down” (Let the Flames Begin), we felt it, too. Though the lyrics still reek of angst, it came with a newfound sense of maturity that made way for rebellion: alright, s***’s happening and it hurts, but we can find ways to be whole again.
Before the turmoil of mainstream success washed out Hayley Williams’ hair into its current platinum blonde state, she championed “Riot!”’s fiery bright orange and a vocal range that spanned at least three octaves. While there wasn’t a shortage of female-fronted bands in the local music scene a decade ago with acts like Up Dharma Down, Imago, and Moonstar 88 gracing what, for our generation, might have been the golden age of OPM, if you’d been a girl growing up to the likes of Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, and Taking Back Sunday at the time, Williams was more than a breath of fresh air. She fueled a certain fire we’d never quite encountered before at the very crucial time of raging hormones. Her spunk paved the way for similarly female-fronted bands in the local music scene’s recent history with acts like Run Dorothy, Gracenote, and Save Me Hollywood.
Ten years later, “Riot!” is still very much capable of lighting a fire. Revisiting the album today can feel like less an act of nostalgia and more like an act of restoration. While current events can cloud us to the point of desensitization, we have “Riot!” to remind us to keep questioning what we’ve managed to accept as normal. We can still show them how we dance.