Going into 2020, there were a few albums that I was truly excited about. Admittedly, though, I was worried that these albums could potentially disappoint me because I had such high expectations for them. Fortunately, the first three albums that I was super excited for, Eternal Atake by Lil Uzi Vert, Sawayama by Rina Sawayama, and Miss Anthropocene by Grimes, were all excellent and we’re not a let down I’m the slightest. Hayley Williams Petals for Armor was another album that I was very excited for when I heard it was coming out. Hayley Willians has been the lead singer of the band Paramore for years, who was one of my favorite artists growing up. Back in my high school Emo days, Paramore was the coolest group making music, and they were one of the most fun acts you could see live. With Paramore, Hayley has seen a multitude of success; her latest project with them After Laughter was released in 2017 and received critical acclaim. Because of all her past success in her band, obviously, the pressure was really on Hayley to make a great solo record. When people love an artist so much as a part of a group, sometimes people will expect the music to be similar to the music the group made and have the same quality; for someone like Hayley, who’s solo music does not sound similar to her band’s, people expect the quality to be even higher(because why would you drastically change the sound you’re known for if the new sound isn’t excellent, right?). With all of that being said, let’s get into this review of Hayley William’s Petals for Armor. If you agree or disagree with this assessment, please let me know in the comments because I’d love to know how everyone else feels about the record too!
Hayley Williams starts of Petals for Armor with the song ‘Simmer,’ which is an Indie-Dance track that has an Alt-Funk bass line that is sort of like a mixture of 80s New Wave artists like INXS and 90s Alternative-Pop artists like Bjork. This Alternative-Funk sound is a driving force for this whole record, and it makes every song flow into the next one super well. Unlike some of the other music on this record, the instrumental to ‘Simmer’ has a very low key nature to it; the instrumental pretty much consists of the aforementioned super funky bass line, some guitar riffs scattered throughout the song that have a very similar tone to the bass line, and the drums which provide the beat of this track. The fact that the instrumental is so subtle like this makes the listener focus on the lyrics, which are pretty intense, to be honest. ‘Simmer’ is a song about Hayley Williams trying to come to terms with all the ways she was hurt by her ex-husband, and how she is trying to come to terms with the anger that she still has towards him. She has stated in the past that she can struggle to control her temper at times, and having someone antagonize her like her ex did must have really pushed her over the edge. She has also stated that she grew up in a Southern Baptist town that was very strict and very unforgiving, and that growing in a community that is so hypocritical like this really messed with her emotions and how she views the world(I can say that having gone to a very strict old-fashioned Catholic school growing up, I can relate to this sentiment on a deep personal level). One this song, she is stating that all of the emotions she is experiencing are starting to simmer to the forefront of her thoughts, and she is having a tough time coping with these emotions in a healthy way. The next song, ‘Leave It Alone,’ is even more soft and subtle than the opening track; even though it has a similar funky bass line, this track is way slower and is not really the kind of song to dance to. Instrumentally, this track is a little more sophisticated and layered; it still mainly only consists of a bass guitar, an electric guitar, and some drums, but ‘Leave It Alone’ also has some distorted synth sounds that create a cool harmony with Hayley’s already layered vocals. ‘Leave It Alone’ is a song about losing loved ones in a variety of ways. This song seems to allude to having people disappear from your life due to a difference in outlooks on life, drug addiction, depression, death, and even memory loss. Hayley feels very lonely because of all the people she has lost in her life; even though she knows that she can not get these people back, she can not help but try to do so because she just feels so unhappy without these people she has lost. The next track, ‘Cinnamon,’ brings the energy right back up to where it was with ‘Simmer.’ It is a Funky Pop-Rock track that really gives me 80s vibes; this song reminds me a lot of artists like Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. One thing that is awesome about this track is the really weird drum patterns; these drum patterns, along with the melody which is pretty much solely provided by Hayley’s voice, make this song the perfect type of song to blast on your speaker and dance around the living room like a good to. Lyrically, ‘Cinnamon’ is basically a song about Hayley Williams being happy in her own home and dancing around with her dog. The lyrical tone and tone of the instrumental from ‘Cinnamon’ match each other pretty perfectly. The next track, ‘Creepin” is a song with an instrumental that definitely matches up well with its name. This song sounds like if Sheryl Crow made music with The Cure; it has a sort of creepy and gothic country-rock sound that is super cool and unique. ‘Creepin” is a song about someone who is sucking the energy out of you. Some people can sort of be “energy vampires, ” bringing everyone’s mood down and making them feel unmotivated and bad. ‘Creepin” is a song that once again has a lyrical tone that feels very close and similar to the instrumental.
Similar to a few of the preceding songs, ‘Sudden Desire’ starts out pretty low key. It doesn’t stay this way for long, though, as it slowly starts to build up into industrial alt-metal as the song progresses. This song has a very late 90s feel to it; ‘Sudden Desire’ sounds like if you mixed Post-Grunge music with weird underground house you would hear in a goth club in London. Once again, the primal feeling of the song really matches up with the lyrics. ‘Sudden Desire’ is about Hayley feeling lust for someone she just met; she wants to feel a deep pleasure with this person once and then never see them again. The following song, ‘Dark Horse,’ might be a song that gives the reasons why Hayley wants such a lustful fling in ‘Sudden Desire.’ ‘Dark Horse’ is about everything that led to her Hayley’s nasty divorce that changed her life a couple of years ago. She is calling him out for cheating on her on this track and basically telling him to fuck off. The instrumental of this track kind of has a very poppy Reggae and Ska feeling to it; the melody and pacing of this song remind me a lot of some of No Doubt’s early music. I like that this song has kind of a chill tone because it feels like Hayley is calm and not full of rage anymore. She has come to terms with what happened to her and moved on. ‘My Friend’ is about the people in Hayley’s life that have helped her move on; this track is about the person(or people) that have always been there for her and have helped her through the worst of times.on this track, she is stating that no one could take this person’s place; she has no idea where she would be mentally without this person’s help. The instrumental of this track has an alternative-pop sound that is very somber and heavy; it is a sound that reminds me a lot of Fiona Apple. Once again, the lyrical tone of this song fits the instrumental super well. It’s really cool how all of these instrumentals have much emotion to them as the lyrics of the songs do. The next, song, ‘Over Yet, ‘ is another self-motivation type of song; after all of the anguish and sorrow and anger experienced up to this point in the record, an uplifting track is definitely in order to bring the mood back up. Lyrically, this song is about getting up after bring knocked down and feeling like you can’t get up anymore. This sentiment is explained really well through these lyrics in verse three: If there’s resistance, If there’s resistance, it makes you stronger. It’s not the end. When there’s persistence, when there’s persistence, you can go farther. Make it your friend… I really like the new wave punk sound that this song has; ‘Over Yet’ has an uplifting tone and melody that make me feel motivated. Also, the buzzy and distorted element that this instrumental has makes me feel like I’m leveling up in a video game because it just has this weird and chaotic energy. ‘Over Yet’ is another song with a totally different lyrical tone and feeling to anything that has preceded it on this record, and it shows off yet another style of instrumental and type of songwriting that Hayley Williams can excel at.
I have to admit that the next track, which is called ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ does not resonate with me that much. Honestly, though, I think that is because it is not meant for me(or really any other man). It is another Alt-Pop song that reminds me a lot of Fiona Apple; it is pretty apparent that she was a big inspiration for a lot of this album. ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ is a song about femininity and a woman trying to find herself. Hayley uses the names of the beautiful flowers in her garden as a metaphor for her life. These flowers are beautiful and delicate but are all plants that can thrive in situations of adversity(in particular, Roses have thorns to protect them, and Lotuses are plants that live in can live in abnormal conditions for a flower). As I said, I realize that this track is not meant for me, but I can definitely appreciate the cool symbolism provided in the lyricism as well as the overall message of the song. Following this, we get another genre change of sorts with the song ‘Why We Ever.’ This song actually has more of a slow and funky R&B feeling to it that anything else. I can hear major inspiration from artists like Lionel Richie and the Bee Gees on ‘Why We Ever.’ I really like the soft she calm nature of this song because it makes the listener focus on the singing in this cut. The layered harmonies throughout the song and the delicate nature of Hayley’s vocals on it are super pretty; Hayley is typically known for her bold and powerful singing voice, and ‘Why We Ever’ is a great example of how Hayley Williams is definitely not a one-trick pony. ‘Why We Ever’ is a song about trying to get over someone you loved, and experiencing extreme depression because of the fallout. The soft nature of this track really adds emotion to it and makes the listener really feel what she is saying. ‘Pure Love’ is a song that sees Hayley finally making a conscious effort to find a new person to love; in order to do this, though, she needs to move past her insecurities caused from her divorce. When you are with someone for ten years starting when your 18 like Hayley was, I can imagine it being very tough to get back out there and try to date. ‘Pure Love’ is a song where Hayley is realizing her worth and that she can have anyone or anything she wants if she goes for it. This song also has an 80s R&B feeling to it; it is a little more Pop-oriented than ‘Why We Ever, ‘ though. I can actually hear a major Michael Jackson influence on ‘Pure Love.’ At this point in the record, it is apparent that Hayley can excel at singing on any kind of instrumental, as she once again nails it with her vocals on this song. The next track, ‘Taken,’ is a perfect way to follow up the sentiment of the song that precedes it; like I stated, ‘Pure Love’ is a song that is about putting yourself out there and trying to find the person that is meant for you after having your heartbroken, and ‘Taken’ is a song about finding that someone and making them yours. On ‘Taken,’ Hayley is informing everyone that is into her that she has found someone new and is currently unavailable. She states on this song that even though she has been very hurt in the past, the presence of this new person in her life makes her believe in love again. Instrumentally, this track has a similar funky Alt-Pop vibe to some of the songs before this that sound inspired by Fiona Apple. I really like how sweet yet scattered this song sounds, as it matches up with the lyrical tone of the song very well. It is cool how the instrumental for ‘Taken’ is just as unsure yet optimistic-sounding as the lyrics are.
After the slow and chill nature that the last few songs have had, a song with a high amount of energy that is super fun to dance to seems like it should be in order; the next song, which is called ‘Sugar On the Rim,’ fits that bill perfectly. This is another song that is obviously influenced by 90s music; the type of 90s music that inspires ‘Sugar On the Rim’ has not been utilized on this album up to this point, though. ‘Sugar On the Rim’ reminds me a lot of Miami Freestyle music, which was really popular in clubs all throughout America during the late 1990s and early 2000s. (songs like Rockell’s ‘In a Dream’ and Stacey Q’s ‘Two of Hearts’ particularly come to mind when I hear this track). This song seems to be about a toxic relationship that Hayley can not seem to shake free of no matter how hard she tries. She compares the person she is singing about to a strong drink with sugar around the rim of the glass. Even though she knows that each sip is going to be bitter and icky, she keeps coming back because the sugar on the surface is so sweet. ‘Sugar On the Rim’ is a super cool and experimental track that is definitely one of my favorites on this record. Following this is an 80s-style Funky Pop track that will make anyone want to dance. ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ is another track that reminds me a lot of Janet Jackson; it is honestly a pretty perfect fusion 80s Pop, New Wave, and Funk. ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ is just so god damn groovy and I love it. Hayley Williams really must love flowers and gardens. I mean not only is the album called Petals for Armor, but this is the second song on the album with a title alluding to flowers that has a very uplifting and motivational tone. On ‘Watch Me While I Bloom,’ it seems like Hayley healed from all of the pain she has experienced, and that she has finally found out who she is and who she wants to be. After all of the songs about the turmoil she has been through, it is really cool to hear her speak so positively of herself and let us know that she is going to be okay. ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ is the perfect song to listen to when you are down in the dumps; not only are the lyrics positive and happy sounding, the instrumental will make anyone start to move their feet and bop their head. Petals for Armor comes to a close with the song ‘Crystal Clear,’ which is another Pop track with a bit of a Reggae/Island music feeling and tempo to it. ‘Crystal Clear’ is another song with a really soft and lowkey instrumental that forces the listener to focus on the lyricism and vocals(at least until the weird vocal and sound effects sprinkled in at the end of the track). One thing I really love about this song is how the drum pattern and the overall sound of the drums. The drums almost have an African or Tribal feeling to them; I love how heavy and intense they sound, as they give a nice extra energy to a song that is otherwise so chill. ‘Crystal Clear’ is a song where Hayley is proclaiming that she is okay and that she now knows how to control and fight through her emotions when they start to feel like they are boiling over. After all, she has been through over the course of this record, it is awesome to hear that she is over the hill and feels like she will thrive in the future.
On her debut record, Petals for Armor, Hayley Williams really brings us on a journey into her mind that is intense and emotional and beautiful. From listening to all of her records with Paramore, it has always been apparent that Hayley was a phenomenal songwriter. Compared to most of the music with her band, this album is so personal to her, though; this is one of the first times that Hayley Williams has truly let us listeners into her world. She really has been through so much, and she is a warrior for making it out the other side in the way that she did. Sonically, this album explores so many different sounds and styles of music. Paramore has always been know as a group that is great and bending and changing genres, and Hayley Williams takes that ability and runs with it on this record. Petals for Armor is an overall really good debut for Hayley Williams as a solo artist, and I can not wait to see what she does in the future with her band and by herself.