Friday, May 15, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor

I'll never admit to being the biggest Paramore fan. Sure, I like Misery Business and Ain't It Fun, and I loved the change of pace the band took on their last LP, After Laughter, and I can respect the stronghold they had in the Pop-Punk scene, going toe to toe with Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy in terms of sales and popularity, but besides that, I've never been that crazy over them. There was always one thing I admired about the band, and that was lead singer Hayley Williams. Her writing and her personality on and off stage made me fall in love with her. So when news broke of her releasing a solo album, I was interested. Mostly to see what a Hayley Williams solo project would sound like. Would it be like a Brandon Flowers project where the songs sound like Killers outtakes? Or would it be more in the style of Thom Yorke's latest solo project, ANIMA, where he completely shed all of his Radiohead past and made something uniquely his? 

Hayley Williams performing with Paramore at Concrete Street Amphitheater in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the After Laughter Tour in 2018.

This project is very individual, and it makes sense that this is a Hayley solo album rather than a Paramore album. The influences on this album range from Radiohead to Lorde, to even Madonna, especially during Sugar on the Rim, a song that starts off with some percussion that almost sounds like clicking your tongue. There's a cool synth bass line before some hi-hats come in and the chorus just explodes. 

The album is split into three sections, and the first two were released before the official release, so with this release, there are only really 5 new songs, but I decided to just wait until the whole thing was released for me to listen to any of it. I think that paid off in the end. 

The first section kicks off with the song Simmer, which might be one of the best opening songs I've heard on any album this year so far. There's this sick drum groove, some subtle guitars and bass throughout the verses. The lyrics on the song are great too, with Hayley singing in the first verse about her anger, her "rage". She also addresses her former marriage with New Found Glory's frontman Chad Gilbert, which she reflects on with regret, even saying, "if my child needed protection / From a f*cker like that man / I'd sooner gut him / 'Cause nothing cuts like a mother." Leave it Alone sounds like something that got left off of Radiohead's In Rainbows. The lyrics on the song are really dark, with Hayley starting the song off by saying, "Now that I finally wanna live / The ones I love are dying." She also talks about her grandmother, who at age 80 fell down a staircase and injured her head, causing her to forget about her Hayley and her mom. God it's such a heartbreaker. The song Cinamon is a bit more upbeat with Hayley singing about her house, and her daily routine. The lyrics are a bit goofy, singing about how she talks to her dog, or how she eats her breakfast "in the nude." The instrumental is pretty minimal but I love the drums on this song. There's also a subtle guitar solo on the outro that's pretty tasteful and mends well. I think the song Creepin' is kind of a bummer in the tracklist. The lyrics don't really say anything and the chorus gets kind of annoying after a while. I do like that low, distorted bit where Hayley sings the chorus though. Sudden Desire is probably my favorite song on this section of the album. The choruses are incredibly well written with this big, booming bass, loud drums, and Hayley singing her heart out. I really dig it. 

The second portion of the album begins with Dead Horse and an admission from Hayley that has apparently been eating at her for years. The song itself is super happy. Some cute chords, happy guitars, and a catchy chorus, but in the second verse, Hayley sings about her relationship with Chad Gilbert again, talking about how their relationship started while Gilbert was still married. After Gilbert and Williams married, he cheated again. Hayley looks back at this with shame both towards Gilbert's former wife and at herself. Over Yet is a song of hope with Hayley singing to the listeners who might be feeling down and depressed, saying in the chorus:

Baby, if you wanna try
To get out of your head, yes
Break a sweat
Baby, tell yourself it ain't over yet

The instrumental is great. It's upbeat and bouncy. I also enjoy the stuttering synths hanging around in the chorus. Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris is a song about feminism with Hayley singing using flowers as a metaphor for finding yourself. The bridge is some of the best writing on the album, with Hayley and female supergroup, boygenius, singing: 

And I will not compare
Other beauty to mine
And I will not become
A thorn in my own side
And I will not return
To where I once was
Well, I can break through the earth
Come out soft and wild

The instrumental has these awesome strings that build up throughout the whole song with another killer bassline in the mix and some cool synths in the outro. It's a huge highlight in this tracklist. Why We Ever concludes the 2nd portion of the album. The song is about disconnecting from bad experiences in your past. The instrumental is downright beautiful. There's a bunch of keyboards that create this great ambience in the chorus with some slap bass and again, a killer drum groove. 

The third and final portion of the album might honestly be my favorite. It starts with the song Pure Love. While it does start off kind of slow, the chorus is so huge and grand. The song goes from the drawn-out chords and drums to the synths accenting Hayley's voice and these twinkling keyboards in the background. I also really love the harmonies Hayley pulls off on the song. It adds so much to the vibe of the song. Taken is Hayley talking about the relationship she's now in. She also highlights how she never really believed in love, but this new lover makes her want to drop that belief. Watch Me While I Bloom brings back the flower metaphors again, with Hayley compares herself to a blooming flower with how she is now getting to the best part of her life. The song is upbeat and fun. The chorus just makes you wanna get up and start dancing. I'm sitting here bopping my head to the song as I type this. The closing track, Crystal Clear, has a good message and I think it does wrap up the album well. The song talks about her willingness to move on with her life and no longer live in fear. The instrumental is pretty soft, with a lot of ambiance from keyboards and drums courtesy of Zac Farro from Paramore. The bridge almost serves as a last look back, with Hayley singing:

Here we go
Gonna risk it again
Let's hope it's the last time
We don't know
How this could end
Let's hope it won't have to

So all in all. I think this project is really good. Hayley is very open on this project and doesn't really hold back. The only problem I really had with this album is how sometimes her influences are a little too bold. Like I mentioned where songs sound like In Rainbows outtakes. But besides that, I can't really complain about this album too much. I'm interested to hear another Hayley Williams project, whether it be another solo album or something new from Paramore.

I would rate
Petals For Armor
By Hayley Williams