A kaleidoscopic tale of recovery and reflection…

It’s pretty wild to consider that Paramore’s debut, ‘All We Know Is Falling,’ came out 15 years ago this summer. It’s safe to say it’s been a bumpy ride for its primary songwriter and vocalist. Band bust-ups, a divorce, and mental health issues have all taken their toll as Williams led the outfit from being scene heroes to fully blown stadium material. Under all the hooks and sing-along chorus, there’s always been an emotional honesty to her songs, one that’s helped Paramore and a few of their contemporaries survive and attract a whole new generation of flame-coloured accolades. It’s certainly a trip hearing your teenage niece big up the fringe crowd of yore.

While the effortlessly infectious grooves of 2017’s ‘After Laughter’ helped push the band into new sonic territories, Williams found herself in a cycle of self-sabotage and denial, a 105 date tour in support of its release not helping matters. Entering her 30s and with some time to breathe, William’s has embraced a new chapter of her life, both creatively and domestically. Ever open with her fans, her frequent posts since ‘Petals for Armor’s announcement in December has given onlookers an intimate look behind the album’s beginnings, the artists she’s collaborated with, and her evident pride at the new direction her music has taken - and an intriguing direction it is for sure.

With debut single ‘Simmer’, it was clear the songwriter wasn’t about to retread sounds of old under a solo banner. With its brooding post-Kid-A beat and feral Evil Dead homaging video, the song makes a stark contrast to ‘After Laughter’s' New Wave sheen, but a welcome one. A heightened level of intimacy and emotional maturity is apparent from the start, Williams dissecting the dual nature of righteous anger and femininity. It’s a seductively groovy look at how we all have to deal with the emotions boiling inside and how they can either serve or destroy us.

‘Leave It Alone’ sees Williams dealing with age and loss, how, just when we feel ready to reconnect to the things dearest to us, it may be too late. Led by some light-footed bass work by Joey Howard, the album’s secret weapon, it’s a hypnotic yet devastating study on life, best summarized by the lyric, ‘If you know love/you best prepare to grieve.’

As reflective as the opening numbers may be, ‘Petals For Armor’ is still a roar of recovery at times, ‘Cinnamon’s’ tweaked out funk injecting some welcome life into the album’s first side. The following ‘Creepin’’ follows suit, its gothic pop edges allowing Williams’ to take down the past and its holding power. ‘My Friend,’ a real high point, sees the importance of friendship and its healing power delivered with honesty and some of William’s best vocals on the record.

The album’s crowning moment, and one which best summarizes its spirit, goes to ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet//Iris,’ a spellbinding number featuring boygenius - Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker - on backing vocals. Here Taylor York’s textured but airy production shines as Williams sings some of the best and most poetic lyrics of her career.

The record’s last third gets poppier, both ‘Pure Love’ and ‘Taken’ seeing some R&B swagger brought to the table. They’re both fine numbers, the latter’s slight bossa nova rhythm proving a nice touch, but they fail to gel as well as the earlier material despite the project's kaleidoscopic nature. Similarly, ‘Sugar on The Rim’s Moloko’esque electronica proves a ballsy move, and is well-executed, but it proves the album’s black sheep by a large margin.

Luckily things get back on track with the closing two tracks, ‘Crystal Clear’ ending things on a dreamy high, the refrain of ‘Give into fear’ reminding the listener that it's not wrong to take a step back and embrace our issues from time to time. Hallelujah.

Overall, ‘Petals For Armor’ is a surprising listen, and not regarding the quality of the songs, Williams, and co. have proven their worth time and time again in that regard, rather in its scope and confidence. With her first solo effort, Williams has delivered a rich and warm album filled with experimentation but never grandeur. It's brutally honest, yet comforting and displays the freedom and catharsis she felt via making it. A compelling new chapter for old fans and a thrilling set for fresh ones.

8/10

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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