Hayley Williams has always been a frontwoman. The 31-year-old vocalist holds the kind of star power that people idolize from their elementary years all the way into adulthood, an intoxicating pull that coaxes fans into cutting their bangs short and dyeing the rest of their hair orange. Having spent her years since 2004 as the lead singer of the iconic alternative rock outfit Paramore, Williams unleashed a fresh, inaugural solo compilation at just about the right time.
Petals for Armor, released May 8, is the first record that Williams has announced separate from her mainstay band. On her birthday in December, the vocalist hinted on Twitter at a solo project to kick off the new decade, saying she wanted “Something I’m going to call my own.”
The first taste of Williams’ long-awaited solo career came a month later with the single, “Simmer,” which dropped on Jan. 22. This track introduces the record’s experimental edge as the opening song, playing with breathy interjections and alternative-style beatboxing. “Wrap yourself in petals for armor,” Williams croons on a bridge that sounds comparable to the style of Florence + the Machine.
But even though the lyrics in “Simmer” outline the album’s title, “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” takes the most creative approach at the floral theme’s simultaneous softness and violent catharsis. This song juxtaposes prose and poetry, saying, “I myself was a wilted woman/ Drowsy in a dark room/ Forgot my roots/ Now watch me bloom.” The lyrics exude an “I tend my own garden” energy, showing the equal power and gentleness of femininity through a quiet beat and empowering sentiments.
Throughout the entire release, Williams highlights each song’s percussive elements, using the organic-sounding beats as a building ground for harmonies, orchestral moments and haunting vocals. Even the strings on “Leave It Alone” are terse statements, helping accentuate the drums’ individual beat creation.
The album is simplistically built, but utilizes sonic effects not ordinarily heard in pop music, differing from Williams’ radio-friendly hits as Paramore’s frontwoman. This matchless chapter of Williams’ career pulls together many of the styles the songstress has perfected over the years, starting with the island influences from Paramore’s 2017 album After Laughter, shining through on “Dead Horse” and the emo undertones of Williams’ voice on “Sudden Desire.”
But much of this record reads as Williams’ ultimate breakup story, finally releasing her more impassioned feelings following the artist’s divorce from New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert. “When I said goodbye, I hope you cried,” she sings on “Dead Horse,” channeling the conviction of her feelings into the music. It’s not just the one-on-one relationship she sings about, however. “My Friend” is the atypical breakup song about the friend who gets you through the heartache in one piece.
A majority of the songs on the record do sound like they belong together, but a select few sound comparatively more like the soundtrack of an ’80s workout video than a Hayley Williams album, namely “Over Yet” and “Sugar on the Rim.” While the album maintains a generally cohesive sound, this Madonna-esque homage sound stands out most starkly from the other songs with its faster pace and more glamorous runway energy.
The genres Williams experiments with on this album — jazz, disco and diva house, to name the newest additions to Williams’ repertoire — manage to come together and define Williams’ new solo sound. Although the album may not appeal to the more alternative rock-leaning fans of Paramore, Petals for Armor introduces and cements a new side of the pop punk icon.
Petals for Armor doesn’t discount Williams’ position as a frontwoman — rather, the album redefines it. Williams isn’t just the frontwoman of a band, or of a fandom; if there’s anything she’s proven, it’s that she definitely doesn’t need anyone else to be her own frontwoman.