- 11 May 20
Paramore star finds strength in vulnerability on long-awaited solo debut.
In the age of Covid-19, the ‘traditional’ album roll-out no longer exists. But even by the strange standards of our time, Paramore star Hayley Williams’ long-awaited debut solo album is decidedly unusual – presented in three distinct parts, introduced gradually over four months.
With any other artist you’d call it a PR stunt. Here, however, the unique presentation is a necessity, with each carefully placed section playing a crucial role in telling Williams' remarkable journey through personal struggles and depression – a tale that she largely played out under the unforgiving glare of the spotlight, as the fiery young frontwoman of one of the biggest pop-rock bands of the 21st century. Her mental health issues have also been previously paraded in the worst way possible by her ex-husband Chad Gilbert, on his almost comically tone-deaf What’s Eating Gilbert track ‘Bad Mood’. Now, however, Williams is taking back control over her own story.
Perhaps in a subtle nod to her Southern roots, Petals For Armor can be interpreted like Steel Magnolias – floral and feminine imagery overlapping to paint women as beautiful and delicate, but nonetheless capable of facing life’s challenges with great fortitude. In fact, as Williams implies through the album, expressing your rawest vulnerabilities just might be the key to finding this strength. In this vein, Petals For Armor plots Williams’ journey through crisis and recovery – from anger on ‘Simmer’, to the hard-won sense of calm and peace on ‘Crystal Clear’.
In certain respects, the presentation of this new stripped-down and mature edition of Williams mirrors the transformations of Lady Gaga on Joanne and Miley Cyrus on Younger Now. But the dark honesty of Williams marks her as an authentic force of her own – particularly in her discussion of her mental health struggles: “Now that I finally wanna live/ The ones I love are dying/ Becoming friends with a noose that I made/ And I keep trying to untie it”.
While occasionally offering brief glimpses of Paramore’s pop-punk stadium-fillers, Petals For Armor defies easy categorisation – instead carving out a unique, somewhat eccentric art-pop sound that draws largely from Björk and Radiohead, while also incorporating R&B elements. Vocally she has never sounded stronger – with this crucial asset taking centre stage thanks to stunning production from her Paramore bandmate Taylor York. Although this is chiefly Williams’ journey, highlights include a guest appearance from supergroup boygenius, made up of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, on the meditative ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’.
While the project stands up powerfully in three distinct parts, as one 15-track album, we occasionally find ourselves repeating the same territory more than once. Yet, as a reflection of a jagged journey, this imperfect plot feels refreshingly organic.
A moving testament to an irrepressible talent that has finally begun to blossom on her own.