Pale Waves - Who Am I?
Manchester’s punk-goth-rock-pop quartet strike again with their second LP 'Who Am I?'. Released almost three years after their debut, 2018’s 'My Mind Makes Noises', this album sees a more matured band, with more life experience. Originally intended for release in 2020, the pandemic had the band stranded on two sides of the Atlantic.
Musically, 'Who Am I?' creates an extraordinary sense of nostalgia that will set anyone that remembers the early 00s alight with yearning. Evidently 'Who Am I?' has everything to thank the one and only Avril Lavigne for. Even the cover image mirrors Avril’s 2002 album 'Let Go'. The two even share a track name, 'Tomorrow'. As a huge Avril fan in my pre-teens, I instantly recognised the homage from the minute I heard the first single 'Change' in November 2020. The album also finds influence in artists like Alanis Morisette.
Lyrically this record is Pale Waves’ biggest triumph. The main themes include finding true love & happiness, self discovery & acceptance, and identity, hence the title 'Who Am I?'. For context, since 'My Mind Makes Noises', lead singer and chief songwriter Heather Baron-Gracie publicly came out, posting many loved-up photos with her girlfriend, singer Kelsi Luck, to social media. Prior to the album’s release, drummer Ciara Doran posted a powerful statement to social media, coming out as trans/non-binary. Their personal evolutions, in self discovery and liberation, really drive 'Who Am I?'. The world needs prominent people like Ciara and Heather as role models for young queer people, of which there were not a plethora during the band’s childhood.
Personal highlights are 'You Don’t Own Me' and 'Easy'. With grungy guitars and a rebellious attitude, the former takes aim at the crap that women are told everyday, like smiling more and acting “ladylike”. 'Easy' beautifully creates the nostalgic atmosphere that I love about this album, as well as putting the wholesome love that Heather has found with her girlfriend into words.
Lead single 'Change' kicks the album off in style, a heartbroken lament about a partner who won’t change. The track is a great opening statement to distinguish the new record from its predecessor 'My Mind Makes Noises', which took inspiration from 80s goth and synth-pop. 'Who Am I?' has clear roots in 00s pop-punk, with more discernible acoustic instruments. 'Fall To Pieces' is one of the record’s heavier tracks, with stunning electronic riffs in the break. 'She’s My Religion' is a powerful love letter about Heather’s girlfriend Kelsi which marks a big moment in her public persona matching with her true self, a strong them throughout the record. 'Wish U Were Here' and 'I Just Needed You' have me expecting to hear Avril Lavigne’s voice before Heather’s kicks in. Dreamy guitar riffs that create a calm pop-punk tone, especially on 'Wish U Were Here', become grittier and rockier on 'You Don’t Own Me'. The faster tracks are 'Tomorrow, Run To' and 'You Don’t Own Me', discussing sexism, mental health, and supporting friends.
Sadly, the album stutters towards the end, with 'Odd Ones Out' and 'Who Am I?' The tracks don’t have the gusto that the rest of the album has, which is a huge shame. I don’t feel like Heather’s voice is best suited to the songs, and they don’t interest me past one or two listens. While the title track has a gorgeous piano backing and with all the lyrical and vocal emotion of a good ballad, it still doesn’t quite hook me in.
One of the few criticisms I have of the LP, is that it’s not that musically experimental, and doesn’t many tokens that make a specifically Pale Waves sound, which I think they had down in “My Mind Makes Noises”, juvenile lyrics aside. While this isn’t an issue really - I love that it sounds like an Avril record - but it won’t go down in history for a unique and contemporary sound.
In spite of all that, lyrically 'Who Am I?' is revolutionary, and takes its place as part of the movement towards complete LGBTQ+ acceptance and visibility. Any song that uses same-sex pronouns, especially in the title, are of vital importance. I cannot wait to be able to scream the songs until I go hoarse in a packed sweaty venue or rainy festival.
Pale Waves will be touring the UK and Ireland in early 2022, find dates and tickets here.
Words by Georgia Hurrell