Albums of the Year lists are about as useful as an IQ test but alas they are a media necessity. Left to my own devices I couldn’t even pick a favourite sandwich filling, but the two albums I wrote about for this feature are easily two of the most enjoyable commercial releases of 2013.
Justin Timberlake is probably the only pop star currently active who could release an eight-minute long song to massive commercial acclaim. In a billboard chart dominated largely by repetitive beats and formulaic composition, Timberlake stands as a reminder that intelligence and complexity don’t have to be sacrificed in order to create a timeless pop masterpiece. In fact, they are essential. There’s a reason why ‘Thriller’ and ‘Purple Rain’ continue to transcend generations and ‘I Kissed A Girl’ will likely be resigned to one.
The thing about Justin Timberlake is he’s not a guilty pleasure, he’s a pop vanguard. His entire career is built on quality over quantity; since going solo in 2002, he has made four albums and each of them has reached number one in the US, the UK, or both. Even when he was co-writing N’Sync songs, he knew what he was doing. He knew music and he knew he didn’t want to churn out mechanical club bangers for commercial payback. Nor does he have to. From ‘Cry Me A River’ onwards, Timberlake has built up a sense of notoriety that gives him license to knock out albums that operate entirely outside of expectation, that do outrageous things like fuse hip-hop with retro-pop and Bhangra, that challenge his audience without alienating them.
Essentially, The 20/20 Experience Part 1 of 2 is a chart-topping album about a happy marriage, which is an incredibly rare feat, but Timberlake does his thing and he does it well. He doesn’t try to be anybody else, because, in the wise words of his potential protégé, Justin Bieber, “that’s what makes you not swaggy.”
Following the less than amicable departure of Josh and Zac Farro in 2010, Hayley Williams was burdened with the uncomfortable task of proving that the band was about more than just her. It was clear that Paramore could not continue to be Paramore and the danger of their next release being perceived as Hayley’s solo project was very real.
However, the band re-emerged as a threesome with a self-titled album that represented an altogether different band, Fifth Element haircuts and all. Comparable to Blink 182’s comeback in 2003, the bad blood that threatened to end Paramore’s career became nothing more than water under the bridge they used to go from strength to strength.
Paramore is both playful and brave in its powerful embrace of pop – an aspect which, care to admit it or not, has always been the core element of the band’s songwriting, and this shift has put them even more out of the box than they were before. Paramore defies the boundaries of it’s own commercial appeal with some unexpected moments from massive gospel choir choruses to ukulele interludes and even a few country vibes here and there. Then of course there are the unquestionably massive bangers like Still Into You and Anklebiters.
Dynamic but consistent, Paramore is the accomplished product of a band that has turned a corner by holding onto their alternative roots and influences with one had and high-fiving Taylor Swift with the other.