Pale Waves are back with their second album, taking us on a nostalgic journey back to the early 2000s.
Photo credit: Pale Waves – ‘Who Am I?’ official album artwork | Dirty Hit
Released: 12th February 2021, Dirty Hit Records.
As the cliché goes, second albums are tough, but Mancunian indie quartet, Pale Waves, have had it really tough since the release of their debut, My Mind Makes Noises, coming up 3 years ago. But from a seemingly never-ending tour, a near-fatal bus crash, and having to finish off their new album virtually, during a global pandemic, they have still managed to come out the other side, with the release of their solid and energetic sophomore album, ‘Who Am I?’
Compared to 2018’s release, Pale Waves have come a long way. They’ve gone from playing in the back of pubs, to less than two-hundred people for a fiver, to landing support slots with the likes of Dirty Hit veterans, The 1975, pop-queen, Halsey, and rock heroes, Muse, headlining sold out shows of their own and inching their way up festival bills. Now Pale Waves are back again with an album documenting self-growth and embracing yourself for everything that you are (something that they’ve experienced first-hand) and now they’re ready to guide the rest of us through.
The collection begins with the band’s lead single, ‘Change’, a song that truly showcases the artists that have influenced Pale Waves from the start, with verses that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Avril Lavigne track, and the acoustic guitar on the bridge that has the exact same vibes of an early Taylor Swift track. This track is not just the perfect opener to the album, but also for the introduction of the new Pale Waves era. It’s a song that is punchy and confident, and it has been very clearly made for the larger crowds that the band are now drawing in.
The album progresses into the newest single, ‘Fall To Pieces’, a track that, like the one before it, offers Taylor Swift style lyrics and guitar chords, alongside relatable lyrics that tell the story of a relationship that is doomed, showcasing how far front-woman, Heather Baron-Gracie’s song-writing has progressed since earlier naïve tracks like ‘There’s a Honey’ and ‘Television Romance’.
Next up is the confident and energetic ballad, ‘She’s My Religion’, which, quite frankly is going to be incredible upon the arrival of gigs again. Between the two albums, Baron-Gracie publicly came out, and this track is a love song that she wrote about her current girlfriend, Kelsi Luck, who also stars in the euphoric music video. Similarly, Ciara Doran recently announced that they are trans/non-binary in an Instagram post, in which they stated that they are ‘ready to live [their] happiest life.’ The choice to have their lead single have a butterfly on the cover, and to carry on this theme by printing butterflies on the album and merch, is a strong one and symbolises how personally Pale Waves are all finding themselves, and reflecting on their previous work, this is incredibly refreshing. On the chorus, Baron-Gracie croons, ‘She’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical, she’s forever angry at the world, she’s no angel, but she is my religion.’, and alongside the heavy guitars and the big drum beats, courtesy of Ciara, it’s impossible not to imagine thousands of fans screaming every word alongside the band, and resonating with the lyrics, no matter who they are or identify as.
‘Easy’ is an energetic pop song, that describes the feeling of unconditional love (‘You keep the lights on for me, you help me to believe, loving you, loving you is easy’), and the music video was described as being “a gothic wedding” by Baron-Gracie. Similarly, ‘Wish U Were Here’ sounds like an early Taylor Swift track, and features the commentary of a poem written by Baron-Gracie’s girlfriend, adding to the personal and intimate feeling of the record.
From the beginning, Pale Waves have stood for individuality, and track six, ‘Tomorrow’ is a perfect example of this, with hopeful lyrics such as, ‘There’s always tomorrow to get you by’ and ‘won’t you stay alive, give it one more try?’ Alongside this, HBG sings in the second verse, ‘Sexuality isn’t a choice, don’t let anyone say it’s wrong, won’t you just keep hanging on?’, and it is very clear that this is Heather saying that she has experienced it and she made it through, and is now prepared to guide their growing fanbase through whatever it is they are currently struggling with, whether that be self-identity, sexuality or mental health. This track has already made its live debut, on the band’s 2019 headline tour, and seemed to go down very well with the crowds, probably because of its ability to resonate with almost everyone, making it one of the most important tracks on the album.
‘You Don’t Own Me’ is angry and powerful, already promising energetic mosh pits in the near-future. Pale Waves are known for being a band that look like goths, but make pop music, which stereotypically, doesn’t fit, resulting in many harshly critiquing them. Naturally, this song is a middle finger in the air to all those who have ever commented on the physical appearances of the band, which is incredibly powerful in the light of the concept of fame and idolisation. ‘I Just Needed You’ juxtaposes the previous track with its soft vocals, and is blissful to listen to, with its authentic feel, and the idea that deep down individuals know that items will fail to fulfil happiness, with the lyrics, ‘I just needed you to be happy’. This track is really stripped back and presents just how much Baron-Gracie’s vocals have improved since the band’s early singles.
Photo credit: Tom Pullen
In complete juxtaposition to the album’s previous track, ‘Odd Ones Out’ is a beautiful, acoustic number observing how relationships nowadays don’t seem to last, or continue to be as passionate as time goes on, and on the surface is a sweet love song promising to always be in love with your other half and be the odd ones out in society, whereas the last upbeat track of the eleven is ‘Run To’, with lyrics such as ‘life is going well, except my mental health’, which feels euphoric and dramatic, promising a tune that fans will be able to scream live, yet, at the same time, appears to be a cry for help.
The title track closes out, swapping the heavy riffs and big choruses for a piano, offering a real insight into Baron-Gracie’s journey to finding herself and becoming the strong and inspiring front woman that she is today. It’s a look into her personal struggles that have consequently led to her acceptance of her identity and her sexuality, in an incredibly intimate way – you almost feel as though you have interrupted a private moment when listening to it.
Who Am I? is a powerful pop album, offering 2000s nostalgia, and upbeat and empowering tunes about the journey to finding yourself. There is no doubt that these eleven new tracks will flourish in the crowds of fans – when they’re given the go-ahead to happen again, though.