When Manchester band Pale Waves released their debut album My Mind Makes Noises in 2018 there were common criticisms across the board. The main one being that at over fifty minutes and with fourteen tracks, the album felt longer than it should have been. Another was that whilst the sound and songs were great, by the time you got to the end of the album it felt like it had worn a bit thin.
It wasn’t helped by constant comparisons to label-mates and touring buddies The 1975 either. The album felt like it was caught in between the aforementioned band and The Cure. But aside from that, it still had some good songs and showed that the band had promise and could be in line for greater things. Their gothic image contrasted with their introspective yet subtly optimistic sound.
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Who Am I?, the second album from Pale Waves, has taken those criticisms and both further embraced them and tackled them head-on. The running-time is now just shy of under thirty-four minutes, with eleven tracks. The sound also takes the 80s gothic-synth-pop influence and adds an element of pop-punk to proceedings. It’s like Robert Smith was joined by Avril Lavigne in a pub chat during which you’d dream to be a fly on the wall.
Does this mean that Pale Waves have pivoted and sound completely different? No, in fact their sound has widened and feels as if it now covers a broader spectrum. Balancing these new elements with the Pale Waves sound of yore means the album doesn’t outstay its welcome. It still feels like the band from a couple of years ago exploring what they’re capable of.
A lot of the appeal of Pale Waves comes from its members. The band consists of frontwoman Heather Baron-Grace, drummer Ciara Doran, guitarist Hugo Silvani, and bassist Charlie Wood. Baron-Grace especially being more open with herself on this album, with the press release stating that she wants to be “the sort of front-woman she couldn’t see when she was growing up”.
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This openness takes centre stage lyrically on Who Am I?, making sure that she takes time to find an answer to that question yet acknowledging that there’s still searching to be done beyond the album. Taking on depression and introspection, there’s an upbeat element that starts to appear here. A key song that highlights this and the growing openness is single ‘She’s My Religion’, in which Baron-Grace sings about being in a same-sex relationship, and has her real-life partner in the video. You only have to look at the YouTube and Instagram comments to see the impact that seeing this has for the LGBTQI+ community.
The rest of the album continues to help solidify this new outlook and tweak in sound. Lead single Change brings on the 00s influence in a nice catchy pop-punk chorus, whilst ‘Fall to Pieces’ brings forth memories of Spirit Room by Michelle Branch. Another single, ‘Easy’, continues to be about love and the change within you that happens because of it. It’s also the song on the album that sounds like it’d fit on My Mind Makes Noises, bringing you back into familiar territory.
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Influences are on their sleeve throughout. ‘Wish You Were Here’ sounds exactly like it was on Let Go by Avril Lavigne, ‘You Don’t Own Me’ has shades of Linkin Park in its verses, and ‘I Just Needed You’ reminds one of Vanessa Carlton. The album also decides to close on the title track, ‘Who Am I?’. This one adds a new style to proceedings, a piano ballad that summarises the themes of self-discovery from the previous ten tracks. It’s a show-closer and gives the album a finale as more musical elements build in throughout.
Who Am I? builds on what Pale Waves have done before, taking on the dual narrative of Baron-Grace discovering herself, and the band discovering themselves. Their sound has expanded and has given them a sophomore album which surpasses their debut.
Who Am I? is out on 12th February from Dirty Hit.