Album Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

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Hayley Williams’s first solo album Petals for Armor sees the Paramore front-woman candidly explore trauma and growth, through an intimately feminine lens.

Paramore’s last album, 2017’s After Laughter, saw Williams’s begin to address her own personal struggles, albeit over the backdrop of gleefully danceable new-wave grooves. She was also in the midst of divorcing a husband who, by her own admission, she ‘never should have married’, and felt hopeless and lost. This first solo endeavour sees Williams fully confront and embrace her own experiences, which are laid bare across the course of the album. Petals for Armor was never in Williams’s plans, but while undergoing intensive therapy for lingering traumas and feelings, she was encouraged to channel her thoughts into the medium that she knew best. This album is consequently deeply personal, and sees Williams grow and bloom, moving from deep anger and pain, to growth and rebirth.

Paramore on their ‘After Laughter’ tour, performing in 2017 by Wikipedia

Petals for Armor is separated into three parts, allowing Williams to poignantly chart the progression of her own growth and self-awareness, as she makes peace with all her feelings and experiences, good and bad. The lead single ‘Simmer’ sees Williams grapple with feelings of rage, and acknowledge and accept it, rather than push it aside. Its accomplices ‘Creepin’ and ‘Sudden Desire’ also grapple with ugly, repressed feelings of lust and regret. ‘Cinnamon’ makes use of gothic funk to see Williams begin to find solace in her own solitude, and defiantly declare ‘I’m not lonely baby, I am free’.

‘This album is consequently deeply personal, and sees Williams grow and bloom, moving from deep anger and pain, to growth and rebirth’

For all its bleaker moments, Petals for Armor progresses to encompass lightness too, as Williams begins to find beauty and strength in her own vulnerability, and begin to appreciate her own flawed, feminine identity. The defiant ‘Dead Horse’ sees Williams admit to past failings in an unhappy relationship, while ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ is an ode to the female condition, and beauty in all its forms. The album’s third act acts as a culmination of the array of emotions that Williams explores, as she begins to accept herself, and love from others. ‘Taken’ is a particular standout, as Williams’s light vocals hover over a jazzy bassline to express her joy at finally accepting herself, and entering a happy and healthy relationship.

Sonically, the album’s earthy and energetic tones perfectly compliment the personal progression that Williams charts throughout. There are echoes of Radiohead and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and touches of the evocative R&B stylings of SZA and Solange.  William’s voice is also used in inventive and experimental ways throughout, perfectly expressing the gamut of feelings that she has learnt to tame and fully understand.

‘Williams begins to find beauty and strength in her own vulnerability, and begin to appreciate her own flawed, feminine identity’

Hayley Williams likely didn’t anticipate that her first solo album would be released during a global pandemic, but the cathartic experience of listening to Petals for Armor seems even more heightened in the circumstances of its release. This is a beautiful and cohesive body of work, and perfectly encapsulates intimately feminine experiences of trauma, tragedy, and the growth that can stem from this.

Image: Drew Stewart via Wikimedia Commons

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