Pale Waves – Who Am I?
Pale Waves are a four-piece indie-pop band from Manchester who were vociferously lauded by The 1975’s Matty Healy before their debut, which caused a lot of hype. This is the second full-length record from them, following 2018’s My Mind Makes Noise, and it’s fair to say its release this week on Dirty Hit is hotly anticipated. While their previous album’s sound referenced the 80s, Who Am I? is firmly nostalgic for the early 2000s. Lead single and opener Change is pure Avril Lavigne, but with some bolder lyrics: “Now you act like nobody / but you still wanna go down on me”. Citing Lavigne and Courtney Love as influences, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s most recurrent touch point in interviews is Taylor Swift. She appears to be the answering the question: what would a goth Taylor Swift be like?
Baron-Gracie went to LA without her band mates to write the Who Am I? and hooked up with well-connected producer Rich Costey, who has worked with Muse, Foo Fighters and Sigur Ros. The rest of the band (drummer Ciara Doran, guitarist Hugo Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood) recorded via the Internet from the UK. The cover art sees Baron-Gracie upfront and in focus, while the rest of the band are blurred into the background – so a band in name, if nothing else. (The rest of the group were once even involved in a serious bus crash in Europe, which Baron-Gracie avoided by taking a plane to the next gig with her girlfriend, Kelsi Luck.)
This record seems like a warm-up to a solo career. In an interview with DIY Mag, Baron-Gracie describes herself as “like a little lion cub that will rip someone’s face off” if you catch her in a bad mood, blaming her lateness on “having trouble with my eyebrow. It was getting frustrating, I was throwing a bit of a tantrum.” Of her girlfriend she says, “It’s like I was a seed in the ground and then she watered me, and I became this flower!” One’s reaction to that lyricism will inform whether or not the album appeals.
An abrasive front woman is not exactly unprecedented, and would be excusable if the album were any good, but it’s not. It’s well produced and Baron-Gracie can hold a tune (or could, were there any to hold), but the track list morphs into one amorphous song. Change has a certain catchiness, like musical MSG: no real substance but it’s got an addictive quality. She’s My Religion is the highlight, with its moody 90s guitars, but other than that there is little to recommend or remember.
While Baron-Gracie may look alternative, inside her clearly beats the heart of pure commercialism. The band have devoted fans for what they represent in the LBTQ community, and Who Am I? will sell; the question is whether the world needs another Avril Lavigne or a goth Taylor Swift, but without the tunes.
Who Am I is released on 12th February 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Pale Waves’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Change here: