Hayley Williams is a pop-punk goddess, there’s no disputing it. Her killer voice, impressive lyrics and badass personality have been integral in catapulting her to superstar status — being Paramore’s fearless frontwoman didn’t hurt, either. On her first solo album, Petals for Armor, Williams talks candidly about what it was like to finally have it all only to watch it come crashing down.
Williams’ highly-anticipated album was released on the heels of her very public tumultuous divorce, and she’s made no secret that these events inspired her creative process. Petals for Armor is the culmination of her two previously released EPs — Petals for Armor I and Petals for Armor II — plus five new tracks. And it captures the euphoria of falling in love, as well as the misery of falling out of it. The album runs the gamut of emotions from joyous to morose, and sometimes it just makes you want to dance. The one thing it’s not is loaded with personality, which is a shame considering its highly personal subject matter.
The default mode on Petals for Armor rests somewhere between jazz-house open mic and early 90s easy listening. On a handful of tracks, Williams robotically delivers repetitive lyrics with either a backdrop of booming synthesizers or simple bass and drum instrumentals.
Sometimes it works.
Williams begins “Sugar on the Rim” by simply saying the song’s title over and over again. It feels like an odd creative choice; however, the effect is an explosive Gaga-esque intro that segues into a dance floor anthem, as
Good Charlotte would say. It’s mindless, completely unexpected and a whole lot of fun. Over Yet starts pretty much the same way and unfolds into an electro-pop symphony of sorts that’s pure joy. It’s also one of the rare tracks where Williams really lets loose and sings. When she belts out, “It’s the right time to come alive baby if you wanna try,” she does so over music that sounds like it’s from the hottest Jazzercise video to ever hit VHS. In short, it’s pretty freaking fantastic.
On the other hand, sometimes the repetitiveness doesn’t work.
On “Pure Love,” Williams lets the music do the heavy lifting and sings the same lyrics over and over again. The line, “If I want pure love, must stop acting so tough,” appears in some form or another roughly 10 times — but who’s counting? Repetition in pop music isn’t a condemnable offense, but Williams employs this method so often on Petals for Armor that it quickly loses its effect. “Pure Love” slightly redeems itself when a dash of Williams’ personality breaks through: “Guess I gotta clean up these bloody fists, if that’s alright.” This line and its delivery are a bright moment in an otherwise forgettable song.
What really works on Petals for Armor is Williams speaking from the heart. In fact, the songs that feel most radio-ready are the ones that showcase her personality.
“I wear my pretty dress with big ass sneakers,” is the opening line of “Taken,” and we’d argue that it would make you think of Williams even if it wasn’t on her own release. This song maintains the album’s overarching jazzy vibe, and it even features some joyous scatting. Its lyrics are clearly about her, and that’s what makes them so powerful. “It’s easy to see how people stop believing // ’Cause everyone I know’s got a broken heart,” she sings, adding that she’s finally happily taken — after only “30 years.” It’s a simple song, but it’s catchy, playful and wonderful.
She pushes playful all the way aside on the album’s fiery single “Simmer.” The vibe starts off as cool and funky until her rage breaks through. “If my child needed protection from a fucker like that man // I’d sooner gut him ’cause nothing cuts like a mother.” One could assume that she’s ripping her ex-husband a new asshole, but you know what they say about assumptions and assholes. Either way, Williams delivered with “Simmer,” creating a song that grabs you by the throat and demands your attention. And it’s not for nothing because the song is phenomenal.
“Dead Horse” is another standout track on Petals for Armor. It starts off with Williams talking to someone who’s unknown to us: “It took me three days to send you this but // Uh sorry, I was in a depression, // But I’m trying to come out of it now.”
She’s defeated and candid. In real life, Williams has been vocal about living with depression and the toll it sometimes takes on her; she’s even cited it as her reason for stepping away from Paramore. Even if this recording didn’t come from an actual conversation, its inclusion on this album is paramount.
As an artist, Williams is at her best when she’s vulnerable and this song affirms it. It’s a poppy romp about moving on that’s loaded with catchy-as-hell lyrics and a killer chorus: “I said I beat it like a dead horse // I beat it like a drum // Oh, I stayed with you too long.” It also delivers gems like, “When I say goodbye // I hope you cry.” It’s not a pop-punk song, by any means, but it’s got the edge of one, and it definitely works. “Dead Horse” is hands-down one of the best breakup songs of the year.
Williams’ personality also shines through on “Roses,” “Cinnamon” and “Why We Ever, the last of which ends in a tear-jerking outro in which she says, loud and clear, that she’s definitely not OK. “I spent the weekend again drawing circles on the floor // Trying to keep myself from hurting // Sorry for freaking out.” It takes guts for her to expose herself in this way, and you really feel for her. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking, frankly, but it’s these rare glimpses into her emotions that really make this album special.
Petals for Armor wasn’t an easy album for Williams to create. “I bawled my eyes out and had to leave the studio … and just go let it all out. My voice was shaking when I sang the words,” she said about her experience recording “Simmer” in an article for the New Zealand Herald. Even without knowing that, it’s clear from the lyrics and the pure emotion behind each song that this project couldn’t have been easy for Williams. However, by releasing this album, she has delivered a true gift to her fans and to herself. She went her own way and created something that’s truly cathartic for anyone who’s ever loved and lived to tell the tale.
Featured Image: Atlantic Records