It’s safe to say that that this year has been somewhat of a whirlwind for Hayley Williams. At the start of 2020, she began teasing her first solo venture away from her 16-year long career as the front woman of Paramore, incrementally dropping EP sized chunks of her full-length, ‘Petals For Armor’.
Indeed, prior to its release, two thirds of the record had already seen the light of day; a way for Williams to stagger the music into 3 thought-provoking sections and give them each their own time for focus and attention as she opens up her vulnerable side, covering topics from her marriage ending to her mental health.
Opener and lead single ‘Simmer’ immediately lets you know this is a world away from the more rock-leaning Paramore sound. Although lyrically it deals with living with an internal rage, this angst-filled track uncovers her experimental side, showing brief glimpses to that of Kate Bush, combined alongside an infectiously catchy pop beat.
Her desire to play with an array of styles is really apparent throughout ‘Petals For Armor’, and one which works perfectly is how Williams is able to dip into different decades and pluck out various elements, especially those from the 80s. One of the strongest songs on offer, ‘Over Yet’, produces an usual mix that resembles an eclectic combination of Girls Aloud‘s hit ‘Love Machine’, Kylie Minogue-esque pop vocals, along with a chorus thrown in that could be any of Madonna‘s hits from the 80s.
Continuing with the retro theme, ‘Sugar On The Rim’ sees yet more experimenting, this time with a more electro-pop vibe, whilst ‘Watch Me Whilst I Bloom’ sees Williams‘ new-found independence blossom in this badass hit, which could confidently rival any of today’s contemporary pop hits.
This desire to evolve herself and carve out her own path really resonates throughout ‘Cinnamon’, an ode to her home which she shares with her dog. Although it’s pretty simplistic just detailing her daily habits, it transforms completely when combined with the exuberant funk-infused instrumentals.
Any fans of Paramore will know that Williams is no stranger to belting out an epic note or two, however, for the most part it does feel she has toned back vocally and instead has allowed eccentric beats and the music to compensate for this. ‘Sudden Desire’ does allow us to get a reminder of those powerful vocals though, complimenting this intriguingly intimate lust-fuelled track incredibly well.
Standout ‘Dead Horse’ is really where we see her open up about her past marriage, and lay the relationship out very publicly. On the surface it’s an extremely addictive jazz-funk anthem, yet the lyrics really open up to her admitting to and reflecting on her own judgements, “I got what I deserved / I was the other woman first”.
Although the album deals with reflecting upon some low points in her life, there’s also some great positives shining through. New relationships and romance are perfectly encapsulated in ‘Pure Love’, a song about letting down boundaries to let people in, whilst ‘Taken’ explores getting into a new relationship after suffering from a broken heart all wrapped un in one of the catchiest choruses on offer.
‘My Friend’ works as the perfect dedication to her closest friends as an affectionate thank you for sticking by her throughout her ups and downs. Friendship is evidently something that she truly values and treasures, especially with Paramore bandmates Zac Farro and Taylor York also getting involved with her solo work on this record, either by accompanying the writing process, recording, and York even producing much of the album too.
One of the greatest achievements to take away from ‘Petals For Armor’ is how Williams‘ hard work and talents have produced an incredible album, and even on one with so many songs to offer, at no point is there a feeling of filler. No matter what your thoughts are towards Paramore, there’s no denying this record is an absolute credit to her musical talents and her ability to create hit after hit.
As a debut solo project goes, ‘Petals For Armor’ is the perfect introduction to this new era of Hayley Williams, and one that acts as a vulnerable catharsis whilst seeing her in a number of ways be born anew.