When someone hears the name Hayley Williams, they typically think of the powerhouse vocalist who carried them through their teen years via the iconic rock group Paramore. On her first solo project, Petals for Armor, however, she veers off into a more subtle approach. She and the frontwoman of Paramore aren’t the same — and, for the most part, that’s OK.
The Mississippi native was signed to Atlantic Records as a mere 14-year-old in 2003. After forgoing the label’s wishes to become a pop artist, Williams created Paramore with Zac Farro, Jeremy Davis and Josh Farro. The band started releasing music through Fueled by Ramen, with its debut album, All We Know Is Falling, dropping in 2005. Paramore has released four other LPs since — including 2007’s anthemic Riot! — and is now made up of only Williams, Zac Farro and Taylor York. Williams has been featured on a plethora of other smash hits, including “Airplanes” by B.o.B and “Stay the Night” by Zedd.
While Williams can’t be expected to replicate the same energy from Paramore on her solo project — this is her own body of work, and she can do what she wants with it — Petals For Armor still lacks pizzazz. The production is immensely subdued all throughout, seemingly accentuating Williams’ vocals as she tackles her deteriorating mental health as well as her healing process. “Sugar on the Rim” is very Madonna-esque, with synths buzzing all around as Williams compares her newfound love to the sugar circling her cocktail. “Cinnamon” is all over the place sonically, but her sincere lyrics of discussing what it’s like to live alone mostly make up for it. Petals For Armor is a satisfactory effort for a debut solo project, and it does hold some gems, too. Here are the best five tracks from Petals For Armor:
5. “Crystal Clear”
Closing the record is “Crystal Clear,” a track that, just like many others here, delineates moving on from what held you back in the past and focusing on the good you have now. Backed by delicate drumming and simple yet tonic synths, Williams promises her significant other she won’t fall back into her old ways: “This time, I wanna stay right here / I wanna make it crystal clear that I won’t give in to the fear.” Williams’ grandpa, Rusty, can be heard in the outro, and his addition makes the track all the more better.
4. “Why We Ever”
“Why We Ever” discusses what some consider the most important day of their life: forgetting why you ever let the toxic person from your past drag you down. The track starts with a funky bass line as Williams reveals she can’t remember a thing about them anymore. Then it’s stripped to a piano ballad, and Williams reflects on how far she has come so quickly: “I spent the weekend at home again, drawing circles on the floor / Tried to keep myself from hurting; I don’t know why anymore.” Her evolution in those four-and-a-half minutes is a sight to behold.
3. “Dead Horse”
On “Dead Horse,” Williams opens up about her divorce from New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert. When they met, Gilbert was married to Sherri DuPree-Bemis from Eisley, and they partook in an affair. After Gilbert and Williams married, Gilbert cheated on her, and she can’t feel bad for herself: “And after all, it’s only fair, yeah / I got what I deserved; I was the other woman first.” The track is reminiscent of Paramore’s After Laughter, with its groovy beats over brutally honest, angry lyrics exemplifying sad pop.
Featuring the female supergroup boygenius is “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris,” which uses different sectors of a garden as a metaphor for healing and advocating for feminism. Williams addresses that she relates to all the women who have damaged themselves for a man, but now, she is growing and recognizing her own worth: “I myself was a wilted woman, drowsy in a dark room / Forgot my roots; now watch me bloom.” The string arrangement is everything and adds to the empowering theme.
1. “Leave It Alone”
What makes “Leave It Alone” so special is the gut-wrenching lyricism. After already losing some of the closest people in her life, Williams is afraid of who might be next or if her depression will make her cut in line: “You don’t remember my name some days or that we’re related / It triggers my worry / Who else am I gonna lose before I’m ready? And who’s gonna lose me?” The production is toned down but still thought-provoking enough to help you understand where Williams is coming from. “Leave It Alone” is one of Williams’ most cathartic tracks to date, making it the best on Petals For Armor.