Hayley Williams releasing a solo album is not a phrase the Paramore front woman (has previously stated) ever thought would be uttered. Yet here we are, almost three years to the day since Paramore released their latest album, with her debut solo record, Petals for Armour.
Petals for Armour is an album that Williams herself has said explores sounds that wouldn’t necessarily fit the rock band she has spent the majority of her life in. However, the credits for the album prove that whilst she’s heading out on this adventure alone, her band mates are still intrinsically part of the creative process. The solo record marks Paramore guitarist Taylor York’s debut as a producer. He, along with touring band member Joey Howard, serve as co-writers with Williams across the record. Drummer Zac Farro lends his drum skills to two tracks and serves as director of the ‘Dead Horse’ music video.
Don’t be mistaken. If you’re looking for classic Paramore tracks, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a record that is sonically cohesive, and takes you on an odyssey its creator has been on, then this record is all you need. The record is spilt into three parts, with the first two having been released throughout early 2020. Each part has its own sound and deals with different themes within the records overall thread of navigating ones inner emotions.
The first part features lead single ‘Simmer’, an eerie track which focuses on ones relationship with rage and anger. Upon listening to the complete record, you realise ‘Simmer’ is its darkest moment. From here Williams takes us on a journey of self reflection and growth from a dark place to a softer, lighter one, evident in closing track ‘Crystal Clear’. Part I is musically darker than its counterparts and includes the bittersweet ‘Leave It Alone’, touching on grief. The experimental modern funk track ‘Cinnamon’ which Williams stated in a live Q&A is: “about my home … what could be deeper than that? I mean, I feel so safe here and it’s an important part of the story. It shows a new side of Williams, entering this uncontrollable beat that takes over and it makes it hard to not groove along to. Williams deals with “energy vampires” on the dark and edgy track ‘Creepin’ where she hits the lower range of her vocal register. The final track from part one is ‘Sudden Desire’. It is here Williams hits those punch Paramore vocals she is well known for. Using hints of punk rock undertones, the lyrics expose her vulnerability while singing about sexual desire and the impulse of giving into these urges.
Part II moves away from the darker sounds as the artists confidence begins to grow. With this the instrumentation builds, becoming louder with more harmonies. Part II begins with the latest single ‘Dead Horse’. The track is a reflection on the singers previous marriage, marking the first time Williams has publicly spoken about being considered ‘the other woman’. The singer stated in an interview with Eve Barlow for Vulture Magazine, “Singing that was like being in a plastic bag for years and finally poking a hole in it. I had a lot of shame about being the other woman, about being betrayed, about staying. The song is meant for myself”. The song deals with betrayal within a relationship and staying within the relationship to redeem past wrong doings. ‘My Friend’ is a complete 180, a luscious love song dedicated to her loved ones who have stood by her through thick and thin. (The track also feels like it could feature on a Twilight soundtrack, something Williams has tackled in the past). One of the standout tracks from Petals for Armour is ‘Over Yet’. Starting off with a punk sound, the track takes a marvellous turn – delivering an 80’s inspired chorus to rival Madonna and Janet Jackson. Lyrically, the song is motivational, encouraging those who are in dark places to not give up on themselves. In a time where the world feels stuck and we are unable to go about our day to day lives, the release of ‘Over Yet’ could not have been more perfectly timed. Williams even filmed her own ‘workout video’ to accompany the track and to keep you motivated during self isolation. ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ is a dreamy track using flowers as a metaphor for personal growth where one does not compare themselves to others. Instead it delivers the message that beauty and strength should exist in all their forms. It also features harmonious vocals from Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus of boygenius. Part II ends with the piano driven ‘Why We Ever’. The track shows Williams disconnecting from her past. In an Instagram post, Williams revealed ‘Why We Ever’ came to fruition after the singer purchased music software Protools, in an attempt to learn a new skill at a time where she said she was feeling her lowest in a while. The mid-tempo chorus draws on retro funk. This paired with the Madonna-esque chorus from ‘Over Yet’ provides a hint at the turn the record is about to take for its third part.
‘Pure Love’ is an 80’s synth dream, opening Part III. Instrumentally and melodically, the track sparks callbacks to the Simple Minds classic, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’. It is also a turning point lyrically for the record. Williams exposes her vulnerable side and sings of opening herself up to receiving love, something she’s discreetly dismissed on previous tracks. It’s almost a rebirth track which features some of Williams’ higher soaring vocals. This is followed up by ‘Taken’, a funk and blues infused track in which Williams sings about the early stages of a relationship and giving love another try. ‘Sugar On The Rim’ continues the 80’s theme of Part III in an avant-garde funk infused fashion. Arguably the albums most experimental track. The song begins with chopped up vocals reminiscent of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and an overall sense of Björk. It also further points to Williams’ views on relationships highlighting that although being in love in the past has hurt, it is now a source of good. ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ is one of the loudest vocal performances from Williams on the record, harking back to Paramore during the first verse. The uplifting track continues the flower metaphors throughout the record, with Williams telling the listener she feels new and is continuing on with her life, blooming like a flower. It is another track you’ll find yourself grooving along to. It shows the journey Williams has taken throughout the record – from darker sounding and themed tracks to a light, retro song about feeling new. The record ends with ‘Crystal Clear’, a song about not giving into fear. The airy, dreamy mid-tempo track is the perfect ending to an album that navigated the darkest times in Williams’ life.
After the release of ‘Simmer’ I was intrigued to see where Williams would take listeners with this record. Part I seemed to set the tone. However, with each part, Williams took a turn, leading listeners to a new place sonically and thematically. The overall production delivered by York is superb, with each instrumentalists musicianship shining throughout the tracks. It is three parts that when listened to sequentially is a feast for your earbuds. There is a sense of intimacy, almost as if the listener is having a conversation with Williams. Petals for Armour may not be as loud as a Paramore album, but it is a beautifully poignant record that navigates ones own emotions. Williams has created a timeless body of work in her own right.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Simmer, Cinnamon, Sudden Desire, Dead Horse, Over Yet, Why We Ever, Pure Love, Sugar on the Rim.
Petals for Armour available now in-store and online.
By Vasili Papathanasopoulos
Image Source: Hayley Williams Facebook (still from Hayley Williams YouTube video Over Yet [Workout Video])