Gunnin’ for that Snow Patrol money…
Iain Mew: For various reasons there is no other music as guaranteed to bypass reason and head straight for my emotions (and nostalgia) as Parachutes-era Coldplay, and this is one hell of a pastiche of exactly that. It starts off like a straight “Yellow” rip, but cherrypicks the best bits from the sad, clomping bass of “Sparks” to the blooms of echoing guitar like those that lit up “Trouble”. They very briefly give away that they’re not the real thing with a few seconds of power drumming, but pull back with beautiful restraint. Most of all though, while Hayley Williams is clearly never going to sound like Chris Martin, she successfully taps in to the universal but believable emotion of the source material, and that’s no mean feat.
Al Shipley: The story the lyrics tell, of guarded skepticism towards love gradually being broken down, could almost be a parallel for Paramore themselves, who’d all but avoided this kind of brazen sentimentality until now. But they finally gave in to the temptation to make a big gloopy power ballad, and man is it worth the wait.
Jonathan Bradley: The vibrant Franklin, Tennessee scene — the Nashville suburb, home to Paramore, Be Your Own Pet and Miley Cyrus, is apparently ground zero for talented teenage girls — deserves better than this sub-Coldplay balladeering. I might be tempted to read some tension into “I promised myself I’d never sing of love if it does not exist/But you are the only exception,” except this plodding, meandering nonentity has too much slack in it. Is Williams’ exception that she’s singing of love in this case, though it doesn’t exist? Do I care? The tune’s agreeable enough on the album, but if the band sought a single to prove they weren’t all punk-pop anthems, “Misguided Ghosts” would have worked much better.
Martin Skidmore: I’ve said good things about singer Hayley Williams before, but the sharp strength isn’t applicable to this slow, mostly acoustic number, and some bad tuning problems put me off. Nonetheless, she’s the best thing in this — it’s a dreary song and the playing could be anyone. At least she has some character.
John Seroff: I’ve pretty much established my Jukebox crush on Hayley Williams; the whole of Brand New Eyes surprised me enough to count it among my top thirty ’09 albums. “Only Exception”, a shoegazey this-is-not-a-love-song emo morsel that refuses to go all soft, absolutely follows suit. It may have the too-obvious patina of junior-high slow dance dramatics but Hayley goes the extra mile for a rebel’s touch of Lesley Gore. When the hand on the tracing paper is this steady and firm, I still call it art.
Chuck Eddy: Started out crossing my fingers that Hayley was making a Taylor Swift move about family traumas; the Mom and Dad memories choked me up. Then she switched to self-analysis and boyfriend boredom and Cranberries hiccups, and the thread was lost. So an “8” for the first minute, then a “4” for the subsequent three-and-a-half; averages out to:
Renato Pagnani: This is one of those wave-your-cell-phone-in-the-air songs that Paramore will play just past the midpoint of their set to signal the sensitive, acoustic part of their show. “The Only Exception” is a delicate but not pouffy thing, and it’s nice to see that a band known for its pinched nerve, MySpace pop punk has another mode, and one they’re just as comfortable operating in. The band seems to relish these more relaxed moments, stretching out their feet, able to do a dance just slightly different from their usual. The songwriting itself has the least amount of traction here, but Williams has never been a particularly great lyricist — her strengths lie in how she can pull off both snot-nosed and vulnerable. You hear it said from time to time, but sometimes it really is just about the voice.
Michaelangelo Matos: I can’t help but hear that spoken “are” in “You are the only exception” as some kind of sop to the fans who’d cry sellout–as if injecting Haley’s “real” self into the money chorus, a stumble in the melody that nods to self-consciousness, awkwardness, tentativeness. That’s not a bad thing at all, and the world can always use prom songs even if you can’t. But you don’t have to be a mall-punk to think this sounds like a Teddy Ruxpin ad.
Katherine St Asaph: Will undoubtedly launch a thousand more Twilight fanvids. Shame it doesn’t have anything interesting to say.
Matt Cibula: Lovely verses, sung beautifully. The chorus is somewhat off-putting (that “are” jars every time) and it repeats a few dozen too many times. But the build is there, the late bridge is devastating, and I for one vote yes here.
Alex Ostroff: I’ve never heard Paramore before, but was under the impression that they were girl-fronted emo/punk in the vein of Ashlee Simpson, not Rilo Kiley 2.0. Though I suspect their waltz-time isn’t as engaging a look as their punk moves, “The Only Exception” is pretty and gets under your skin. Hayley Williams’ performance draws me in (especially the languid pause at “comfortable…distance”), but I wish the song were a little less sleepy and a little more steel-pedal. The production leans too heavily on the lushness and murk deployed by Coldplay and Doves back in the day, instead of trusting Williams’ strength as a vocalist. This is a damn shame, because between daddy cursing the wind, Hayley’s commitment to loneliness, and the lilt in her voice, there’s a great alt-country song buried here.
Jonathan Bogart: I may be overrating this, but if it manages to get played on the radio all summer, I’m pretty sure I’ll feel I underrated it by August. Put simply, this is the best ballad I’ve heard a mainstream rock band produce since the 1990s. I can’t wait for the anecdotes about people who use it for their wedding song, not realizing that there’s a middle eight.
Kat Stevens: I used to be a big Radiohead fan, to the point of seeking out live bootlegs and rarities. I once started an ambitious blogging project to review their entire catalogue in chronological order. I thought they were important. But I never really liked “No Surprises” – sappy and delicate, instead of irritable and awkward. I’ve pretty much outgrown Radiohead now, or perhaps it’s fairer to say the service they rendered for me is no longer required since I stopped being a miserable student comprising a minimum of 73% pure emo. In any case, I didn’t bother buying their last album. The inevitable irony is that now I really like an even sappier, more delicate version of “No Surprises”, and to make matters worse it’s about mushy feelings instead of the loneliness and disillusionment of modern society. JUST CALL ME GRANDMA.