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Album Review: Pale Waves – ‘Who Am I?’

‘Who Am I?’ stuffs itself with impactful numbers that cement Pale Waves as the hottest pop-punk property.

“I keep wishing you would change… change…” – chanted not only by Heather Baron-Gracie and her fugitives, all grown up as they embark one of the most anticipated sophomore voyages to date but by an industry that hissed these exact words back at Pale Waves amid their ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ campaign; lusting over luminous synths and gorgeous Europop choruses before, ultimately, growing tired.

The novelty began wearing off (I say, observing the opinions of others. I, for one, will never tire of a synth) and 80s-pop nostalgia humdrum kicked in. ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘ was perfect, it redefined an already beaten to death renaissance of synthpop. Often referred to as “same-y”, it didn’t really matter, its immaculance shone through regardless.

The last year has thrown some drastic alterations our way, but most shocking would be Pale Waves entering the world of technicolour. I’d previously claimed to “throw out all clothing that isn’t black and sad” each time this lot released something new, until now.

Submerging into a fluorescence of early 2000s grunge with a strict tartan dress code, Heather Baron-Gracie, Ciara Doran, Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood embrace ‘Change’ in unimaginable ways on ‘Who Am I?’ – the intangible tribute to an era of angst à la Avril Lavigne / Liz Phair.

Transitioning into yesteryear’s pop-rock for ‘Change’ straight through to the silken guitar licks of ‘Fall To Pieces’, the quadrant’s vision to produce something of versatility is already very clear. ‘She’s My Religion’ captures the innate beauty surrounding queer love and opens up a sacred space for the band’s LGBTQ+ following. Adored by many even at its early stages of creation, with some even claiming its 13-second demo snippet shared last summer as their “shower song” for two weeks running (it was me), to hear this one in its finished glory feels quite special.

Easing into ‘Easy’ – a heavenly burst of euphoric lusting and epilogue to the ‘She’s My Religion’ love affair. This is the most heartfelt moment on the record and one that originated as a piano ballad, albeit I can’t imagine any other version than the one we’ve been Baron-Graced with. Very “UK act breaking America for the first time” type single. Perfect.

Unguarding on ‘Wish U Were Here’, Heather loves one woman and she wants you to know all about it. “Crying on the floor wishing that you were here / Life isn’t fair just want you near” Equip with folky intros of stunning old-school guitar, she even slips in her best American accent for an adorable mini-monologue.

‘Tomorrow’ is ultimately a debut album b-side meaning it’s obviously impeccable. Premiering first at their Forum, London gig to mark the year anniversary of ‘My Mind Makes Noises’, Heather performed the night wearing an oversized black leather jacket with lyrics from the track–“sexuality isn’t a choice”–sprawled across the back. Detailing many societal pressures and exploring what it’s like growing up surrounded by the close-minded, this impactful gem makes one of the boldest statements we’ve heard on the record thus far.

These statements continue in ‘You Don’t Own Me’; a 3-minute analysis of all the criticisms women of the world face in society. Reverberating her way through each rebellious verse, Heather takes no prisoners and is quick to say a big “fuck you” to fitting inside any specific box.

At this point in the record, we’ve earned a well-needed breather from its overwhelm of punk-mania. That’s where ‘I Just Needed You’ and ‘Odd Ones Out’ come along, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves into Heather’s cosmos; peering into her infatuated yearning in these purest of love songs.

As we dive into the record’s finale we’re greeted with a lyric worthy of the loudest belt at any Pale Waves gig going forward: “Life is going well, except my mental health” Hard relate! Title track ‘Who Am I?’ is more of an encore to the former ten songs rather than being part of its collective, standing alone as a daunting piano-driven ballad soaked in tears and approached by “fear of the unknown” emotions.

This record holds a supercut of memories that transport you back to the early days of the 2000s, the days where you stumbled upon your first musical idols and memorised their entire discographies in the comforts of your bedroom. What makes ‘Who Am I?’ so great is that, yes, it’s in a new direction for Pale Waves, but it doesn’t throw us straight into the deep end. It homes a sound so familiar that we don’t approach it with caution, rather we run straight on in for the warmest of hugs.

★★★★★/5

‘Who Am I?’ is released via Dirty Hit on February 12th.

Jordan White
Assistant Editor

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