Pale Waves ditch the eighties style guitar riffs and sleek synths of their debut, and instead turn to the 2000’s heyday of pop punk for its follow-up, Who Am I? Despite the record largely parroting this era of music, the Manchester quartet pack and deliver this noughties nostalgia expertly, jamming the album full of sugary melodies and effervescent hooks.
Vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie cited Avril Lavigne as an influence for the record, whose impact can be found throughout, most starkly on the cover which clearly echoes the pop-rock pioneer’s most celebrated album Let Go.
Lead single and opener ‘Change’ boldly signals this new direction with clarity. The radio-friendly attitude and purging guitar riffs are irresistible and echoes of ‘Complicated’ are noticeable in the track.
‘Change’ is the only real heartbreak track of an album which seems otherwise equally balanced between romantic euphoria and societal angst. For a record which featured numerous hurdles in its making, the end product remains impressively cohesive and full of light. These hurdles included the fracturing of the writing partnership between Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran; a near-fatal bus crash and of course the forced separation brought by the pandemic.
While these hurdles will have been influential in the maturity of the album, it seems liberation is the more powerful force behind the record. Since the release of their debut, My Mind Makes Noises, Baron-Gracie publicly came out, while Doran announced they are trans/non-binary, saying they are ready to “live [their] happiest life”.
‘She’s My Religion’ brilliantly alludes to both the ecstasy and anguish that comes with being free and honest in identity and sexuality. “She helped me find a different kinda love, Made me feel like I was finally enough, But there’s more going on behind the scenes, She needs this love just as much as me,” sings Baron-Gracie on the track. ‘Easy’, the album’s highlight continues this theme featuring the beautifully carved lyrics: “I don’t believe, how can it be? That you’re alive at the same time as me”.
The theme of queer liberation works best when Baron-Gracie is detailing her own personal experience but falls flat on tracks like ‘Odd Ones Out’ and ‘Tomorrow’ where a saviour complex element seems to seep in and dilutes the sentiment. “Kelsi, I know life drags you down, Growing up in a small town, Always the odd one in the crowd, You know I’ll never count you out,” sings Baron Gracie on the latter.
On an album rallying the theme and purpose of identity, sonically, Pales Waves have not showcased their own just yet. The Mancunians have however, demonstrated an exciting maturity and unshakeable knack to produce killer hooks and melodies with Who Am I?