Hayley Williams review, Petals for Armor: Distorted, disorienting funk that charts singer’s evolution towards peace

Paramore frontwoman wrote her solo debut in the aftermath of divorce, depression and a PTSD diagnosis

Alexandra Pollard
Thursday 07 May 2020 13:07
Comments
Williams refuses to put an easy score to her complicated emotions
Williams refuses to put an easy score to her complicated emotions

Early Paramore was full of purgative teenage fury. Hayley Williams, just 16 when the emo-rock band’s debut album came out, described her music as “like word-vomit put to guitars”, its carefully crafted caterwauls the perfect soundtrack to youthful angst. But on Petals for Armor, Williams’s first solo record, “rage is a quiet thing”.

It is perhaps the best opening line – sung on “Simmer” over percussive breaths, gasps and a creeping bass riff – of any album this year. Though it might seem like a contradiction in terms, it evokes a specifically female anger – one that is constantly repressed, suppressed, belittled and overlooked, and which Williams grabs hold of and transmutes.

Released in three parts and written in the aftermath of divorce, depression and a PTSD diagnosis, the record reflects an evolution – albeit not a straightforward one – towards some kind of peace. For the most part insular and sparse, with a distorted funk that feels deliberately disorienting, it is far from the foot-stomping stadium anthems of Paramore of old. Far even from the band’s excellent 2017 record After Laughter, which flung itself into the arms of Eighties synth-pop. Instead, on songs like “Cinnamon” and “Sugar on the Rim”, there’s an uncomfortable edge to Williams’s melodies. Just like Fiona Apple or St Vincent, she refuses to put an easy score to her own complicated emotions.

“Sudden Desire”, an R&B-laced flurry whose exultant chorus was inspired by Björk, sees her walking side by side with her own pain: “Take the elephant by the hand and hold it/ It's cruel to tame a thing that don't know its strength … My gentle giant/ Painful reminder.” There is dark wit here, too. “Nobody tell me that God don’t have a sense of humour,” she sings over eerie bass on “Leave It Alone”, “‘cus now that I want to live a little, everyone around me’s dying.”

There are shades of Madonna’s “Vogue” to “Over Yet”, which is glitchy and manic, as if Williams is running full-speed towards something. “Dead Horse”, one of the perkiest earworms on the album, is preceded by a frank voice memo. “Alright, it took me three days to send you this,” she says, “but, sorry, I was in a depression/ I’m trying to come out of it now.”

Petals for Armor doesn’t offer up an easy redemptive arc towards happiness; it is a Herculean effort to pull yourself out of depression. But in letting us in on that effort, Williams has created something special.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in