Pale Waves – ‘Who Am I?’

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Could there be a more lovely Valentine’s weekend treat than a brand new album from our favourite Mancunian emos? The answer is, categorically, no. Whether you’re all loved up or really feeling the lockdown loneliness, there’s something to be found in ‘Who Am I?’ for everyone.

So get ready to hit play, turn the volume up to max and sing (or cry) your heart out, because this album is everything Pale Waves fans have been waiting for. And it’s really bloody wonderful. 

‘Who Am I?’ touches on every aspect of love, from bitterness to terrifying perfection, and everything in between, but it’s not just about those external relationships – it’s also about our relationship with, and love for, ourselves and the lack of control we often have over that. Between the wild frustration (‘Change’), the intense heartbreak (‘Wish U Were Here’), and the idea of loving someone so much you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop (‘Fall to Pieces’), ‘Who Am I?’ serves as a fierce reminder to take a second to focus on you, too. There’s a reason that this record’s title is centred around the individual, and it’s because the overarching message isn’t about interpersonal relationships – it’s a plea to all Pale Waves fans to work hard to ensure that whatever may happen in their relationship, they will be okay if the only person around to love them is them. 

Sonically, it’s impossible to discuss this album without addressing the clear similarities between its sound and that of Avril Lavigne circa 2002 when ‘Let Go’ was released. From the moment the record kicks off with first single ‘Change’, we’re hit with a welcome revival of the acoustic, pop punk sound that has long since defined Lavigne’s golden age, and while front woman Heather Baron-Gracie may have a few more years behind her than Lavigne did at that time, you can easily make connections between themes of angst, rebellion, and the vulnerability that you’ll unearth if you take a second to listen back to Lavigne’s most beloved music. 

While the similarities are undeniable, Pale Waves still easily stand out in their own right and it’s Baron-Gracie’s signature vocals that really set this album apart from anything we’ve heard before, delivering hard-hitting lyrics in the most unique way. Among the declarations of love and admissions of fear – ‘Fall to Pieces’ ‘She’s My Religion’, and ‘Odd Ones Out’ – are tracks that touch on more hard hitting topics, most notably ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Who Am I?’. It’s these two songs in particular that set Pale Waves apart, cementing them as a more mature band despite their teenage influences. ‘Tomorrow’ – which made its live debut in September 2019 – pleads with named individuals to keep trying even when life gets hard. Its beauty comes in that personalisation, reaching out to Ben and Emily, Kelsi and Haley, touching on their personal stories and asking them directly to keep trying even when life seems impossible. And while individual names are used, Baron-Gracie really could be speaking to anyone – the kid who just came out to his parents, the 20-something year old who is struggling to find happiness in ‘the real world’, the girl comparing herself to supermodels – and in that sense it’s easy to take it to heart and apply it to your own situation. This is a track that makes you feel as though Pale Waves are there for you, holding your hand through life’s greatest hardships. 

The acoustic and desperate ‘Who Am I?’, on the other hand, flips this support on its head, as Baron-Gracie reaches out to ask for help and for answers as she continues on a quest to find herself in what has turned out to be a pretty turbulent world. It’s certainly the most vulnerable track on the record, encompassing every doubt that’s previously been addressed into one, seemingly simple yet realistically impossible to answer question. While it may at first seem like an odd choice to close what has otherwise been an upbeat album, its power is immense as it leaves you reflecting on not just everything you’ve heard up until that point, but also your own life, how you want your future to pan out and, most importantly, who you are.

While Pale Waves may only be two albums deep, they’re already pushing boundaries and testing brand new waters with everything they release. A far cry from 2018’s ‘My Mind Makes Noises’, ‘Who Am I?’ sees this band moving forwards at a phenomenal pace and will undoubtedly see them pick up brand new fans as well as appeasing those who have been around for a while. This is a band that are already so exciting, and that this is still only the start of their journey shows just how much we have to look forward to.

YASMIN BROWN

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