Favorite Tracks: “Why We Ever,” “Simmer,” “Pure Love,” “Crystal Clear”
Needless to say that as someone who, in 2008, had a MySpace photo album entitled “My Wives,” in which Hayley Williams was prominently featured, I was very excited for the release of her first solo project, PETALS FOR ARMOR, though I was less excited to see her individual voice and more the potential for some clarity. Given Paramore has been in the public eye and common lexicon of pop punk and alternative rock for decades, they were no strangers to scandal, but with nudes leaked and slander from former boyfriends/band members, etc., Williams seemed to bear the weight of all the drama most lead singers do (especially femme ones); there was a palpable desire to see if, and how, Williams, often quiet in the wake of the aforementioned scandals, might respond on a release outside of the band.
Opener “Simmer” reminded me of the obnoxiousness and moreover misogyny of my “excitement.” I found myself falling privy to what so many of us do in our obsession with celebrity: I forgot my humanity. Williams has been through an onslaught of voracious bullshit for years, none of which pertains to her music as an artist, nor is anything relevant to her moral character, rather judgments made out of hearsay and societal expectations; on “Simmer,” Williams starts off by telling me to shut the fuck up. Not literally, of course, but the sentiment reverberates in the flowery prose of her lyricism. The song touts the overwhelming and infuriating nature of repression; Williams is not only tired, but rightfully angry. She articulates just how long she has been repressing the unequivocal perils she has been put through by her own depression, critics, or otherwise: “Rage, Is it in our veins? / Feel it in my face when I least expect it / Give in, control / There’s so many ways to give in / Eyes close / Another way to make it to ten.” This woman is angry. This woman is resilient. This woman is powerful.
Williams finds poignancy in the juxtaposition between a version of herself covered in petals, a beacon of aromatic, tender, liveliness and as an armor, a brute, protective, and calloused entity for her career thus far—talk about vulnerability. Yet, it’s not just “Simmer” that waxes Williams’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences. “Pure Love” paints the hardship of transparency in love and the fear of putting your guard down: “If I want pure love / Must stop acting so tough (I give a little, you give a little / We get a little, sentimental) / If I want your love, Ooh, got to open up.” She talks about the futility of sex-based intimacy and the commitment to opening up in order to find not the fabled “true love,” but love in its purest form: “Cause to let you in (I want your love, I want your love now) / Is true compromise (I want your love) / Not just the friction of our skin (I want your love now) / If I want pure love. Must stop acting so tough.” Meanwhile, “Sugar on the Rim” harkens back to an overlooked Paramore cut, “(Not One of Those) Crazy Girls.” Although the songs have a different tone and thought, the takeaway is the same—Williams is a human being, she laughs, she cries, she shops at grocery store like the rest of us, and, yes, she fucks! Specifically on “Sugar on the Rim,” Williams is talking about sex, a sex that is carnal yet thoughtful, passionate yet unnerving. She so clearly kisses and tells without ever having to be direct; it’s tracks like these that remind us of our own biases towards people we’ve deemed in another social echelon, on a pedestal we have endowed.
Williams’ lyrical capability is not at all shocking considering the dossier of gorgeous prose she has delivered over the past 15 years. It feels gauche, or almost an affront, to not mention the impeccable production on PETALS FOR ARMOR. Most glimmer with a careful curation that only someone with a definitive knowledge of what Williams likes could articulate. After five albums, she knows what works, what doesn’t, and what she doesn’t want to repeat. In that way, PETALS FOR ARMOR, with its vocal distortion, electro synth sound, and scatting pop sonics intentionally sounds nothing like Paramore. This record feels like Hayley Williams’s expose, a chance for her to just fucking speak.
PETALS FOR ARMOR runs parallel to two albums: FLAMINGO by Brandon Flowers and MAGDALENE by FKA twigs. The latter resonates in that, everyone, myself included, wanted Williams to dish, to give the full scoop on more than a decade of accrued rumors. We asked the same thing from FKA twigs regarding her breakup with Robert Pattinson, and both women gave us what we asked for by saying everything without saying anything—that autonomy in and of itself is inspiring. On the surface, comparisons of PETALS FOR ARMOR and FLAMINGO make sense, as both are the solo albums from lead singers of commercially successful rock bands, but the similarities in the honesty and the freedom from the expectations is irrefutable. Both individuals have shown, not told, their unique personalities and given a gracious peek into the journey of youthful rock stardom.
After finishing PETALS FOR ARMOR it hit me like a ton of bricks that I didn’t give a shit. The drama I had focused at the heart of this woman felt so wanton to me, and what was replaced in its stead was compassion. I’ve loved Hayley Williams since I was 12 years old, but after listening to her solo debut I felt like I finally saw her. I saw her, I loved her, and most importantly I was unbelievably proud of her. Whether it’s a vessel for venerated nostalgia, genuine curiosity, or deep affection, PETALS FOR ARMOR feels like required listening.