The possibility of a Hayley Williams solo album has been on the horizon since the very beginning. In 2003, the 14-year-old Williams was signed as a solo artist to Atlantic Records, which envisioned her as a Top 40 pop singer, à la Avril Lavigne. She insisted on being in an alternative rock band. She won. And so, alongside the rest of Paramore, she wrote empowering anthems for misanthropic teens to mosh and rip their tights to.
The first word of Williams’ new debut solo single, “Simmer,” is an enunciated “rage.” It hangs in the air like a provocation before she finishes: “… is a quiet thing.” There are flashes of anger here—a surprise use of the word “fucker”—but by its own admission, the song operates at low temperature. There is no distorted, thrashing guitar; instead, it’s accented by watery harp and ominous vocal harmonies. “Oh, how to draw the line between wrath and mercy?” Williams asks, before murmuring, “Wrap yourself in petals/Petals for armor.” The concept of shielding oneself with softness is a mature—and natural—progression from reactionary fury, but it’s not a very exciting one. Between the song’s misty ambiance and the music video of Williams bolting through the forest, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she’s been here before: In 2008, when Paramore recorded a song for the Twilight film series. Like a soundtrack song, “Simmer” sets a mood and asks some hazy rhetorical questions—but too often, this story feels as though it could be passed off to anybody.