“Rage is a quiet thing,” so - now famously - starts “Simmer”, the lead single from Petals For Armor.
“You think that you’ve tamed it, but it’s lying in wait.” Yet Hayley Williams has never been ‘quiet’; half her life as the lead force of Paramore has well documented her oft formidable fury. Rage for competitors (“Misery Business”), rage for bandmates (“Ignorance”), for their detractors (“Now”) and - in their last album After Laughter - for herself.
Petals For Armor is a display of the multifaceted truth that is ‘femininity’; Williams’ rage is complex yet simple, primal yet now more discrete. “Simmer” encapsulates this in itself, with its brisk syncopation, throbbing pulse and protective embrace. Williams’ voice has always been a dextrous instrument, but finds new vigour here mirroring the ebb and flow of the accompanying instrumentation, a tentative dance that feints and barbs with equal conviction. “If my child needed protection,” Williams posits with eerie calm. “From a fucker like that man / I’d sooner gut him - ‘cause nothing cuts like a mother”; in this instance, you don’t doubt for a second.
It is easy to forget that she is no longer that flame haired 18-year-old we watched grow up, but the unapologetic sensuality, sexuality, vulnerability and insight here can only be attributed to a woman wise to the trappings of the world. The poetry of her lyrics are, at times, inspired: “Think of all the wilted women who crane their necks to reach a window,” Williams muses in matter-of-fact monotony on “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”. “Ripping all their petals off just because he loves me now / I myself was a wilted woman, drowsy in a dark room,” she continues, aware that compromising her agency ultimately fettered her joy. It is no wonder that she has cited the Charles Perrault folktale Bluebeard and its analysis in Women Who Run With The Wolves as an inspiration for this new collection. The throaty wails that inject the track are cry for help.
Angela Carter’s reinterpretation of Bluebeard in The Bloody Chamber saw the young woman escape her captor with the aid of her mother, and similarly so Williams liberates herself here. The brazen physicality of “Sudden Desire” and its fierce, gurning guitar capture a carnality lurking barely beneath its surface. This rediscovery of who she is as a woman traverses her sadness and introspection to joy. “I am not lonely, I’m free,” she states in “Cinnamon”, its restless rhythms and Paramore spring leaving a sweet yet earthy taste, whilst the punk urgency of “Over Yet” abates to a lush, sugary chorus. There’s hope for a new beginning found in the bright disco funk of “Pure Love” whilst “Sugar On The Rim”’s slow-burning revelry drops as heavy as its chunky synths; you can practically see the shapes being thrown.
“It took me three days to send you this,” murmurs Williams in a voice-note near the midway point, at the start of “Dead Horse”. “Sorry, I was in a depression, but I’m trying to come out of it now.” The relief of unpicking your stitches for your most vulnerable core to stream free has clearly had a cathartic effect. With Petals For Armor Williams reclaims her story and starts anew: she is her own saviour.