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

by Emily Duff

Manchester outfit, Pale Waves, have just dropped their second album, ‘Who Am I?’, which is a huge move away from their debut, ‘My Mind Makes Noise’, due to the band’s crazy experience in the near-3 years since its release. Heather’s lyricism demonstrates the beginning of truly questioning themselves – as implied by the title.

A lot has happened since the release of their debut album, ‘My Mind Makes Noises‘, – most noticeably Heather has come out as gay and Ciara now identifies as non-binary. The personal development and self-reflection that happened during this time seem to feed into ‘Who Am I?’ a lot, something which can especially be heard through their already released track, ‘She’s My Religion’.

While touring in February 2020 with Halsey their shows were cut off quickly, not by Covid but by a serious bus accident in Berlin. The bus slipped on ice into a ditch, thankfully causing no injuries to any of the band members but meaning that their break melted into the lockdowns caused by covid. 

Previously, the band had created music by combining Heather’s lyric writing and Ciara’s production – with this album other producers and creatives were involved and gave the band a change of pace that forced them out of their comfort zones and broke away from their old habits. Although causing tension between the two members. 

Having had time to grow and heal relationship-inflicted scars, the album drops in a time of lockdown and lost freedom – an ironic opposition to the album’s message of individual liberation. Despite being the longest time in which Pale Waves haven’t played a show along with all the other effects discussed, ‘Who Am I?’ is not a ‘pity me’ album sourced by trauma and the effects of a global pandemic but rather a collection of songs about embracing who you are and regaining your independence.

Starting with ‘Change’ the band immediately demonstrate their progress not just musically but lyrically. With heartfelt expressions being heard in lines like, “I let you back in, now I’m crawling on my skin” and “Now you act like I’m nobody, but you still wanna go down on me”, the band demonstrate a new-found emotional maturity. However, juxtaposing the upsetting nature of the lyrics, the track is rhythmically upbeat. Moving more in a pop direction, the band seemed to have split from past inspirations of The Cure towards pop sounds of both 90s Alanis Morissette and current Billie Eilish but with a simultaneous noughties feel to it.

Following this is ‘Fall to Pieces’ which is the latest single from the album to drop pre-release. It further demonstrates the band’s move from 80s inspired new wave synth to 00s grunge pop.

Although already released, ‘She’s My Religion’ is possibly my favourite track on the album. It’s blunt but vague lyrics can appeal to any listeners’ experiences and the musicality remains distracting and uplifting. Every time I listen to it I end up with the chorus in my head for weeks after and, to me, that’s exactly what makes a good pop record – memorability.

‘Wish U Were Here’ even mirrors Avril Lavigne vibes through the title and use of ‘text speak’. Although seeming less politically driven, the track gives a personal outlook with descriptive and blunt lyrics like, “Sick of touching myself in the dark, I look at pictures of you and I’m getting nothing back”. While seeming almost uncomfortable to hear, it’s also a nice sentiment – more of a look at genuine love and lust rather than the usual pop style of over romanticised relationships. 

Then follows the track ‘Tomorrow’. This one seems to be written for the listeners as though Heather is a big sister giving advice and comfort. With reminders that “Sexuality isn’t a choice, don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong”, ‘Tomorrow’ speaks to listeners that may feel like outsiders or uncomfortable in accepting their truths. Specifically addressing their audience with first-person pronouns in powerful lyrics like, “You’re one of a kind, just trust me” – it’s a song for fans who need to hear it. Music cures loneliness and to have a band like Pale Waves actively saying, you’re normal and heard and allowed to feel your feelings, it’s going to be a comfort especially for younger listeners. This sentimentality combined with the thunder from Ciara’s drum creates a very powerful track.

The feminist track, ‘You Don’t Own Me’, was another release that dropped pre-album release. With a fit of audible anger, the track spits hate at the patriarchy which seems genuine to how Heather is feeling. With witty and snarky lyrics like, “I know it’s hard to believe, but you don’t own me”, and, “A pretty face like yours should really learn to smile more”, along with more grittiness in their riffs there is an intense sense of pent up anger and frustration finally being released. 

Dropping tomorrow (12th Feb), the album has a lot of anticipation – and doesn’t disappoint. 

Published by emilyduff

Emily is a Journalist and PR Assistant from Newcastle who is currently studying English Literature at the University of Sheffield. She is also the owner and producer of her magazine, Darling, Lifestyle Editor for Forge Press and Marketing Lead for Liberty Belle Magazine.

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