Manchester’s Pale Waves have barely let the dust settle on their second album, Who Am I?, before launching into their third effort, Unwanted, an album demonstrating an ongoing evolution and settlement into what the Pale Waves’ ‘sound’ is.
It’s easy to say that there are moments that Unwanted feels like Who Am I: Part 2 on the initial listen. But further listens begin to nestle in a slightly different spin on the ‘sound’. It feels more like the sound they were flirting with on that album fully taking over, and the cleaner ’80s goth-indie sound of My Mind Makes Noises is very much in the past, but then beginning to lean towards a more alternative sound than plain pop-punk. If Who Am I? was Avril Lavigne, then Unwanted is Michelle Branch via Veruca Salt. In fact, a few songs from this sound like they would fit in with Branch’s The Spirit Room.
It doesn’t feel like the impactful shift in sound that the band had when they released ‘Change’ in 2020, but they’re still tweaking and experimenting with a few new ideas. ‘You’re So Vain’ introduces an interesting vocal effect in the verses that makes the song stand out a little amongst its fellow siblings. But it’s one of few stand-outs of that ilk on the album. If anything, this is the track that could suggest where the band could go after Unwanted.
As they move away from the indie-guitar sound from their first album, what it means is that they lose a weapon in their arsenal. There’s that aforementioned ‘ongoing evolution’ the band is undertaking, but there’s a point in this album where a slight deviation, or a nod to My Mind Makes Noises would be a welcome diversion to keep the listener on their toes. In a strange regressive way, this is a little in tune with the criticism of the first album being too samey and lacking deviation. The combination of the pop-punk and the indie-pop in the previous albums gave Pale Waves a little more scope in what an album could cover.
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Whilst a little more variety may be appreciated, there are still some great rock-pop bangers in this. Pale Waves know how to pull off a good single that will get a crowd going at a live show, and tracks like ‘Reasons to Live’ and ‘Lies’ are fully on their way to being live staples for years to come. As mentioned previously, ‘You’re So Vain’ is quite exciting and unlike any other Pale Waves song that’s been released before. Catchy choruses abound, with ‘Jealously’ and ‘Alone’ standing out.
Aside from perhaps not embracing their full aural history, Unwanted is still a great album and worth a listen.
Unwanted is out on 12th August from Dirty Hit.