Mancunian outfit Pale Waves have become one of the coolest, most exciting and perhaps most important British bands in recent years. They broke onto the scene with oh-so-80s yet oh-so-current slabs of atmospheric guitar-driven pop that heavily leant into bands like The Cure and The 1975 (who Pale Waves are protégés of). Whilst debut album My Mind Makes Noises was a great launching point, it was pretty clear early on that Pale Waves didn’t want to rest on their laurels and stick with an already-established sound. They were a band that wanted to push their own limits both musically and visually. That’s something they’ve channelled into their sophomore album Who Am I, which has finally worked its way into our ears!
Right from the off you can tell that Who Am I is a very different listening experience to My Mind Makes Noises. The lush fantasies of the 80s-styled guitar pop of their debut album has been dialled back to make way for more precise and more modern songwriting, sounding more akin to something you’d hear on an Avril Lavigne or Taylor Swift album. That’s absolutely no bad thing; in fact, the band sounds all the stronger for it.
Heather Baron-Gracie’s voice really shines in this upgraded version of Pale Waves that sounds more 00s than 80s, the more unpretentious musical stylings allowing the full emotion of her writing to shine through.
This quality is most apparent on ‘She’s My Religion’, where Bryan Adams-style guitar parts intertwine beautifully with edgy 00s and 10s guitar-pop to create a brilliant love song that’s refreshingly honest about its emotional content. Opening track ‘Change’ showcases that really well too, as does the following track ‘Fall to Pieces’; both songs thrive in a world of summery guitar-driven pop.
‘Easy’ is another album standout, showcasing their new 00s meets 80s sound really well. The jangly guitars meld really well with the pumping synth bass of the chorus and the Red-era Taylor Swift-esque vocal melodies. It’s a song that’s been on regular circulation on the radio both pre and post-album release and for very good reason—it’s just so, so catchy and uplifting!
‘Tomorrow’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’ see Pale Waves go into much rockier territory than they have in the past. The latter has a really fat, chunky verse riff that I certainly wasn’t expecting. These rockier efforts, with a more edgy energy and delivery, could sound out of place compared to the rest of the album, but they’ve been produced in such a way that it doesn’t feel weird to have them there at all. If anything, it’s actually a really great change of pace to have those two songs around three-quarters of the way into the album.
Despite them seeming to want to leave the more 80s aspects of their sound behind, ‘Wish U Were Here; definitely fits into the The Cure-inspired mould of their debut album. ‘I Just Needed You; also fits into that vibe, albeit within the more 00s-style production and arrangement of songs earlier on in the album like ‘Fall to Pieces’.
Who Am I isn’t without its faults, though. ‘Run To’ is a bit twee, with some honestly pretty jarring and cringeworthy lyrics. It’s the only real duff track, though, on an album that’s otherwise packed full of brilliant songs that are incredibly well-produced and thoughtfully presented.
Who Am I is a slightly unexpected yet brilliant evolution of Pale Waves. Whilst there might still be a few criticisms that the Mancunian quartet is a touch too derivative and they’re just being derivative from another source of inspiration, it’s nonetheless a significant step forward in their sound. Pale Waves could have settled on the super 80s-sounding sonic landscape of their debut, but they chose not to. It’s a decision that’s likely going to pay off very well for them, especially as 80s mania begins to fade away with time.
Words by Robert Percy
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