Reviewed: 10/05/2020

Rating: 8.5 // 10

Genres: Art Pop, Art Rock

Released: 08/05/2020, Atlantic

Hayley Williams knocks her debut album out of the park – utilising her amazing voice to its fullest potential.

Very few artists can boast of the experience of the industry Williams boasts at the age of 31, and after over a decade and a half in the business, the lead vocalist of Paramore has taken her first steps under her own name.

An unconventional album release saw the record split into three – with the first two parts released as standalone EPs. Labelled Petals for Armor I and II respectively, the third part of the album was kept back until the full release, finally allowing listeners to fully piece the jigsaw together.

I somehow completely missed the roll out of this album; I heard Cinnamon some time ago, and whilst waiting with interest to see Williams’ first steps in her solo career, other things kinda got in the way.

In the end I’m glad I got to experience the album as a whole – and I think that impacts how I experienced its component parts. The three segments work very well, but also still feel very connected. They also work as standalone mini-albums, with central themes and styles, but I didn’t feel at any point that, say for example, a song from the third section didn’t belong on the same album as a song from the first.

On the opening track Simmer, we can hear Williams’ voice utilised as an instrument, layered upon itself and combined with sound effects to create an enveloping beat.

Released as the lead single, Simmer highlights multiple points of Williams’ four-octave soprano range, including her ability to utilise a whisper register. It helps build a sensual image, and reflects the lyrics beautifully. Williams uses various aspects of her voice to portray her emotional lyrics – with the titular word of simmer quite rightfully sung with a calmer, more restrained tone.

Leave It Alone, the second track and single from the project, sees Williams lay bare her fears of losing people after her nan began to lose her memory after a nasty accident.

Highlighting her current fears by describing how she feels about her nan, she extrapolates and begins to worry about other people close to her. It’s this stripped back, almost naked truth to these songs that are reflected in their simplicity.

Cinnamon, a catchy track which sees Williams somehow make her daily routine interesting, she again showcases her range. A slow burner until the chorus, this track beings to incorporate a pop vibe that further songs will use later on in the album.

The track itself features many beat changes, turning a simple song that relies heavily on its chorus into a deeper track.

Creepin’ raises the pop levels a bit higher, as Williams again opts for a catchy chorus and colourful image regarding ‘vampires.’ Connotations of an abusive relationship or people who “leech off” another arise, but overall the analogy doesn’t become too on the nose.

Again Sudden Desire heads in the same direction as the previous two songs, a slow burner building into an another pop-based chorus. Once more we hear a wide range of Williams’ voice, which raises and lowers to match the song.

If one word describes the opening portion of the album, sensual would be most apt in my opinion. Not in a romantic, sexual way, but rather in the literal sense of the word.

The second leg of the album beings with a skit, where Williams details her struggles (presumably to producer, bandmate and lifelong friend Taylor York) with finishing songs and the album as a whole.

Combined with the even poppier tune Dead Horse, the skit marks a clear divide between the two EPs, and sets up the track nicely.

Detailing her divorce and an affair, the lyrics mark a distinct contrast to the pacing of the track – arguably for the first time on the album there is a disconnect between the lyrical content and the instrumental aspect.

It works well, and Williams’ details of her affair – a topic rarely portrayed with such openness is still heard clearly between the uber-poppy lines of Dead Horse.

For the first time on the project, Williams focuses on a relationship and someone else – her friend Brian O’Connor. Another track that slowly builds up to a poppier chorus, this track slows the pace down on the album.

Overall, the second EP steers towards a pop-based sound, made clearer with the song Over Yet. Williams returns to a familiar pop punk sound on this track, with the song starting fast and continuing at that pace throughout.

Feminity and females in general are celebrated on Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris, which features female supergroup boygenius (consisting of Phoebe Bridger, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) on backing vocals.

Why We Ever is the album’s first forgettable moment – by no means a bad song, but it brings nothing new or memorable to the table, and unfortunately leans towards being a filler song.

The final leg of the album probably has the most cohesive theme running throughout it – the celebration of Williams’ new found love, for someone else and for herself.

Infectious pop-based beats return from the beginning of Pure Love, and the upbeat tunes and lyrics continue onto Taken.

Sugar on the Rim marks arguably the largest shift in musical style, incorporating a funk beat and computer stylised chorus.

As well as a celebrating the growth of a new relationship, Williams also boasts of her own life improving, especially on the track Watch Me While I Bloom. Continuing the upbeat tracks on this final ‘disc’, Watch Me While I Bloom conveys its message well over another slightly funk driven beat.

The album wraps up with Crystal Clear, which slows the pace down again to deliver one final message. By no means a slow ballad, the track serves as somewhat of a mission statement for Williams’ life going forward, as well as an introspective on what she has been through.

Overall this is a fantastic album that deserves at least one full listen. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see how Williams’ balances her solo career with her band – at the end of the day, she is the only name officially on the record contract with Atlantic.

No matter what form her next musical adventure takes, I’ll wait with baited breath.

Track Listing:

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

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