Album Review: Hayley Williams – ‘Petals for Armor’

Hayley Williams
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Don’t let the flowery imagery confuse you. With Petals for Armor, Hayley Williams has created a freshly-plucked bouquet of songs that dazzle the senses as they probe the mind. A story of heartbreak, persistence, and release, the 15-track LP walks the listener down a path to rediscovering love.

At 31, Williams has spent half of her life as a performer and songwriter. Growing up in the pop-punk spotlight with her band Paramore, she was thrust into the part of a role model for a generation of her peers. However, with depression haunting her at every turn, Williams never saw herself as a superhero.

The singer, with the support of her bandmates Taylor York and Zac Farro, created 2017’s After Laughter as a starting point on a journey towards self-healing. After returning from tour (and a divorce), Williams used Paramore’s next hiatus to further her journey via a solo album.

Petals for Armor tells its story in three parts, grouping the 15 tracks into 5-song segments. The first movement finds the singer at the moments of her deepest grief. Album opener “Simmer” shows Williams at her angriest, gasping for control over her rage. In “Leave it Alone,” she openly mourns the loss of loved ones. Towards the end of the first set, the singer sees moments of escape (“Cinnamon”), but she also can’t shake the darker impulses in her mind (“Creepin’,” “Sudden Desire”).

The second act finds Williams later on, at a point where distance has given her wisdom. “Dead Horse” opens this segment, as she finally saw her past relationship for the exhausting mess it left her in. (A voice message sets the tone, as Williams apologizes for her depression causing a three-day work lag. Her dog, Alf, also makes a brief barking cameo.) Sarcasm drips over the track: “Dyed my hair blue to match my lips […] Pretty cool I’m still alive.”

Further reflection pops up in “My Friend,” as it chronicles the solace Williams finds in her strongest friendship. “Over Yet” boasts a hefty motivational chant (“If there’s resistance/If there’s resistance/It makes you stronger/It’s not the end”) over poppy synths. “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” and “Why We Ever” both deal with the adoption of that mindset, with the latter containing the singer’s apology to her past lover.

Act Three shares an optimistic Williams, as she sheds her old ways. She opens up in “Pure Love,” and furthers her hopes for a better love in the future in “Taken” and “Sugar on the Rim.” “Watch Me While I Bloom” invites the listener to see the singer’s newly-exposed truths, and “Crystal Clear” drifts away from her murky past.

If After Laughter marked the running steps Williams would take to a new sonic garden, then Petals for Armor is her long jump into it. Primarily, she delves deep into the ways of the synth, playing the keys on the majority of the LP. Brooding, dark washes of atmospheric sound cover portions of “Creepin’” and “Sudden Desire.” The smashes of bright, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”-esque synth fills that appear in “My Friend” would make Yes proud.

Acoustic guitars, strings, and piano melodies found in “Why We Ever” and “Crystal Clear” offer gentle moments. Disco beats in “Pure Love” and club-worthy bass booms in “Sugar on the Rim” show positivity at its most intense! The instrumentation in “Watch Me While I Bloom” strikes a balance between gentle and intense; it bursts with jazzy horns, à-la Sting’s “We’ll Be Together.”

Williams mostly stays in the lower half of her vocal register — a big departure from her signature soaring belts. Her power belts come into play in the happier tracks, where positive tones warrant celebrations. Otherwise, the listener hears the breathy, vulnerable side of the singer, highlighting the album’s raw themes.

Petals for Armor is the first entry in Williams’ solo work, but it’s the most satisfying chapter overall. Finding strength in accepting perceived vulnerabilities, the singer shares her dirty roots and her blossoming outlook on life and love. Why not bloom alongside her?

  1. Simmer
  2. Leave it Alone
  3. Cinnamon
  4. Creepin’
  5. Sudden Desire
  6. Dead Horse
  7. My Friend
  8. Over Yet
  9. Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris
  10. Why We Ever
  11. Pure Love
  12. Taken
  13. Sugar on the Rim
  14. Watch Me While I Bloom
  15. Crystal Clear

Post by Elizabeth Owens


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About Elizabeth Owens 23 Articles
Graphic designer, illustrator, & Concert Crap photographer based in the DC area. Fanatic of live music, comedy, & sci-fi. Usually writes with more wit.

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