First off, how on Earth is Hayley Williams only 31? It seems she has been around forever, with Paramore's Riot! coming out when I was just starting secondary school. It shows just how young she was when she was spotted and picked up by Atlantic Records as a possible future star. She fulfilled that promise very quickly indeed.
After five records with the band, she has decided to try something different. Though she worked on this album with a fellow Paramorian, Petals for Armor could not be further from the pop-rock sound with which she has become synonymous. A very personal record in places, Williams described making it as a "scary, empowering experience" and an album which benefits from the instrumental experimentation that came from her "musical naiveté and rawness".
It's strange to hear Williams say that she is musically raw, having released five successful records with Paramore, but a crucial factor of this record is just how new it is for her. It varies in style throughout, with plenty of Billie Eilish influence on the likes of 'Leave It Alone' and 'My Friend' interspersed with 1980s synthpop on 'Sugar On The Rim' and the outstanding 'Over Yet'. After a decade and a half in Paramore, she has been let loose on this album to create something that is truly hers.
She flexes her muscles throughout. Opener and lead single 'Simmer' immediately chucks you into this new realm; there's no pop-punk here at all to ease you in. It's a brilliant song, with some excellent vocal production and clever little tricks that make each new listen interesting. In fact, the whole thing is full of little tricks, another indication that there was no intention of making this a "commercial" record, but rather one that reflects Williams' capabilities to their fullest extent.
The whole thing is strong, but there are some particular highlights. 'Simmer' and 'Leave It Alone' come together to create an excellent start to the album, but the highest points come on the sensational 'Dead Horse', an upbeat and beautiful tune with a chorus bigger than the Taj Mahal, and the aforementioned 'Over Yet', which belongs in a different era and yet still feels modern and fresh. Again, the chorus stands out, with a melodic and catchy vocal line cleverly supplemented by a rhythmical synth that responds to the chorus' lines.
There aren't really many low points to talk about. At 55 minutes, it's a lengthy album, but with 15 tracks of which the longest is 5:21, none of them outstay their welcome and it feels brisk as a result. A couple of the songs do feel just a little bit filler, with 'Taken' being the worst offender, but truthfully they all have their place and make this record what it is.
Last week's album from Ghostpoet is one of the best of the year, but this one is also right up there. The last two weeks have brought us some truly brilliant stuff - we didn't even get to review the fantastic new effort from Trivium - and it seems that it's not a moment too soon, as we continue to deal with this Covid-19 crisis.
Paramore will return, of that there can be no doubt, however artists are creative people who love to challenge themselves and try new things. With Petals for Armor, Hayley Williams has branched out massively and proven herself to be a great artist in her own right, capable of more than just the Paramore shtick. It's a super record, and one that shows a completely different side to Hayley Williams, which is something she acknowledges herself. "I’m excited to let people in to experience a different side of myself that I’ve only very recently become familiar with", she said in an interview. Hopefully there is more to come from her in the future.
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