HAYLEY WILLIAMS: Petals For Armor (Atlantic)
Verdict: Solo talent in bloom
MARK LANEGAN: Straight Songs Of Sorrow (Heavenly)
Verdict: Gloomy but gripping
As lead singer with Paramore, she had been gradually edging the guitar band away from its American emo-rock roots towards slicker sounds and big pop hooks
The most obvious way for Hayley Williams to launch her solo career would have been with a full-scale blockbuster.
As lead singer with Paramore, she had been gradually edging the guitar band away from its American emo-rock roots towards slicker sounds and big pop hooks.
But this solo bow isn’t the mainstream banger many of us were expecting. At least, it doesn’t start off that way.
Its 15 songs are divided into three, five-track sections and it opens with soft introspection — a surprisingly downbeat move for an artist once dubbed ‘the great orange hope’ (on account of her flaming red hair) by blues guitarist John Mayer.
Petals For Armor gathers pace as it progresses, though, with Williams — her hair now a more subdued strawberry blonde — living up to her billing as a cool, quirky star in the tradition of her heroine Gwen Stefani.
It’s a debut that rewards patient listening, its running order dictating that its extrovert moments arrive late on.
Hayley, 31, is releasing it in an unusual manner, too. Currently isolating in Nashville when she should have been preparing for her first UK solo tour, she has rolled these songs out gradually: five in February; another handful over the past few weeks; the album in full today.
It’s not a new strategy — Swedish singer Robyn did it with 2010’s Body Talk — but it suits Petals perfectly.
Releasing in fits and starts has given fans something to chew on in lockdown. Williams has also chatted to followers from home and even posted an entertaining workout video for new track Over Yet.
Paramore are on hiatus, but members all appear on the album. Drummer Zac Farro and bassist Joey Howard contribute, but her main collaborator is guitarist Taylor York, who produces and co-writes.
The early tracks are experimental. Simmer suggests she has been listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows.
Paramore are on hiatus, but members all appear on the album. Drummer Zac Farro and bassist Joey Howard contribute, but her main collaborator is guitarist Taylor York, who produces and co-writes
Leave It Alone employs lush, jazzy strings as Williams owns up to her anxieties. And, on Cinnamon, she sings of isolation: ‘On the walls of my home, there are signs I’m alone / I keep on every light and talk to my dog.’
Romantic strife plays a part. Her two-year marriage to New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert ended in 2017, and there are confessional songs that address heartache and a desire to move on.
The sense of starting afresh is most pronounced on a five-song closing salvo. Sugar On The Rim is rooted in hip-hop and dance and the electronic bossa nova of Taken hints at new love: ‘If anyone’s asking, I’m taken.’
On finger-popping Watch Me While I Bloom, she sounds ready to assert her independence — ‘You only got one side of me, here’s something new’ — a solo star coming of age.
Tales of degradation and regret are hardly going to lift spirits at the moment, but there’s a power to Mark Lanegan’s latest album.
Out as a companion to his memoir Sing Backwards And Weep, its dark lyrics are made palatable by stunning music and what former collaborator Isobel Campbell calls his ‘classic, effortless American voice’.
As frontman of Seattle band Screaming Trees, Lanegan was a prime mover on the grunge scene. He was a friend of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain — who sang on his first solo album in 1990 — but never enjoyed the success of his peers and recovered from