Hayley Williams – ‘Petals For Armor’

By Fiachra Johnston

Far from the mania of 2000s pop-punk and from the pastel pastiches of ‘After Laughter’, ‘Petals For Armor’ recounts tragedy and travesty. The debut solo release from Paramore front woman Hayley Williams has been long anticipated – perhaps no more so than by Williams herself, who after bouts of depression and a divorce has produced this almost as an act of catharsis. Released in ‘acts’, with the final third released on 8 May, the now-complete album is an enrapturing picture of loss and suffering, but also growth and resilience. Like the name suggests, ‘Petals For Armor’ is an example of finding strength in tenderness, and power in femininity.

For Williams, it’s difficult to escape the shadow of a project she’s been the face of for a decade and a half, but while both current and touring bandmates lend a hand in creating the album (Taylor York producing, Joey Howard as a co-writer, and Zac Farro on drums for ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ and ‘Crystal Clear’) this certainly feels far more like a stand alone project than an ‘After Laughter’ rehash. William’s personality is injected into every crevice; her own story, her own perceptions of life and feminism, and her own musical inspirations, of which many bleed into the record.

The more melancholic areas such as leading track ‘Simmer’ are paired with Kid A-era Radiohead synths that move into more Janet Jackson R&B-infused tones as the album progresses. Portishead drumlines combine with heavy bass and whispered vocals to deliver subtle tracks like ‘Creepin’’, before exploding later into a flurry of sound such as in the modern pop-aligned ‘Sudden Desire’, or the Bjork-styled introduction to ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ – a cheeky reminder to us that Williams’ vocal abilities are as impressive now as they were fifteen years ago. The influences are varied to the point they shouldn’t gel but, perhaps due to the strong focus from Williams, nothing feels too obtuse or forced; tied back into the story of her life, everything falls into place with subtle grace.

Williams’ exploration of, and espousal to, feminine imagery on the album (with, as the album name suggests, floral imagery playing a large role) is a self-admitted step away from her usual modus operandi, but it’s a refreshing exploration of the self here. It’s used both inwardly on ‘Cinnamon’ (“Home is where I’m feminine / smells like citrus and cinnamon”) but also outwardly, covering subjects like the often destructive relationship between male and female in songs like ’Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ (”I think of all the wilted women / who crane their necks to reach a window”).

In this way, ‘Petals For Armor’ is bursting with life and energy, even if it appears intentionally subdued in places, and the staggered release – while making for a slightly lengthy full release of 15 songs – pairs well with the album’s layout and statements on suffering: rage (I) breaks down into sadness (II), which moves to acceptance and self-love (III). By the time the story draws to a close with ‘Crystal Clear’, it feels as though Williams has grown over the course of the hour, and there is a resounding promise to continue that evolution: “I wanna make it crystal clear / that I won’t give in to the fear”.

‘Petals For Armor’ can, at times, appear awkwardly bleak, but there’s a unexpected lightheartedness to it all, with grooving trip-hop dance rhythms and funk bass lines that both tie into and defy the darker subject matter that bubbles underneath. It’s a curious but fitting juxtaposition, one that lends itself to the personal narrative of Hayley Williams; a story of survival and learning as a woman in the music industry, not because of tragic events but in spite of them. Williams doesn’t really have anything left to prove in her 16+ year career, and the inward gaze of ‘Petals For Armor’ doesn’t try to espouse some great truth or knowledge to the masses. Rather, it’s a personal album addressing our individual flaws and life experiences, a record that will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever experienced similar crises of the self. It is everything Williams herself has set out to be on this solo adventure: raw, unfiltered, and honest.

FIACHRA JOHNSON

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