Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

“A Painstakingly Honest, Personal and Vulnerable Album” – Album Review: Pale Waves – Who Am I?

Gemma Cockrell

‘Who Am I?’ sees Pale Waves depart from the light, 80’s inspired indie pop sound of their debut record ‘My Mind Makes Noises’, opting instead to explore their potential by incorporating elements which are reminiscent of late 90’s and early 2000’s pop punk, with the most notable influence and comparison being pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne. It “acts as the Pale Waves manifesto – inspiring inclusivity, self-discovery, and the notion of being whoever the hell you want to be.”

Lead vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie grew up listening to this era of music, therefore the intense influence that it has had on her is unsurprising. In an interview with Alternative Press, she declared, “I feel like this album is childhood for me. It’s the music that I grew up with. This is what I know best. This is what I’ve only ever known. And now this is the core of me. This is what founded my love for music and from the earliest days. So, it’s the easiest kind of music for me to write. And of course, Avril Lavigne is a massive inspiration. There’s no denying that she was my childhood hero.”

The album artwork is also inspired by Avril Lavigne’s debut album, 2002’s ‘Let Go’. This can be inferred directly from the opening track and lead single Change, an anthemic song with nostalgic vocals. This is a refreshing new direction for their sound, but despite utilising tropes and elements from decades past, they succeed in establishing a new and refreshing sound, remaining true and relevant to the modern indie music scene and preventing these influences from sounding stale or outdated.

Baron-Gracie’s voice lends itself incredibly well to this style of music

Wish U Were Here is another track which is drenched with Avril Lavigne influence – from the gentle acoustic guitars to the nostalgic song-writing style, the song sounds almost as if it could have been lifted directly from Lavigne’s ‘Let Go’. Baron-Gracie’s voice lends itself incredibly well to this style of music, and she sounds more comfortable than she did on the band’s debut record.

It can also be noted that Lavigne herself has a track of the same name, despite being stylised differently as Wish You Were Here. Fall to Pieces and Tomorrow are two more tracks from the album which shares their names with Lavigne classics. It is impossible not to the strike comparison here, however, looking past the irrefutable influences that Lavigne has had on the overall sound of ‘Who Am I?’ as an album, these shared song titles are likely to merely be a coincidence.

The second single, She’s My Religion, sees Baron-Gracie embracing her sexuality proudly, celebrating her identity in a way that has never been seen from her before. Lyrically, the track explores the idea of loving someone’s typically undesirable traits and loving everything about them, even their flaws.

On Twitter, Baron-Gracie shared how she “wanted to write a song that used pronouns because for so many years I didn’t in my music, and now I realise how important that is, to normalise LGBTQ relationships in a world that needs it.” Therefore, unsurprisingly, many other tracks on the album explore these important topics of inclusivity, self-discovery, and the notion of being true to yourself, inspired by Baron-Gracie’s own personal journey of becoming comfortable with her sexuality. As she stated in the press release: “For me, music and art mean that people don’t feel so alone and isolated. I want to be the person my fans look up to and find comfort”. For example, Odd Ones Out encourages differences to be celebrated, viewing them in a positive light, while Tomorrow sees her boldly declare that ‘sexuality isn’t a choice’.

The album’s third single, Easy, is a romantic ode to a relationship that is effortless, and a love that comes naturally. It depicts love’s powerful ability to change your outlook and perspective on life, causing things to make sense in a newfound and previously unexperienced way. “Love can change your whole perspective, not only of yourself but of life too,” Baron-Gracie explains. “It’s the most heartfelt moment throughout the album and it is a genuine, feel-good love song.” Originally a piano ballad, it was adapted into a more upbeat track to successfully capture the uplifting and inspiring spirit of love.

The fourth single, You Don’t Own Me, advocates for independence and empowerment, a theme which works perfectly alongside the feisty tones of pop punk. “I wanted to say a fuck you to everyone that plays by these fake delusional rules that women and gender need to fit inside a specific box,” says Baron-Gracie. The verses of the track speak through the voice of a society which depicts how women should look, act and behave, with lyrics such as “Don’t cut your hair too short / Cos it looks better long and straight / Don’t make the first move / Cos dignity will always wait” and “Just learn to bite your tongue / Were you not taught when you were young? / Don’t show too much skin / Don’t even start to speak your mind”.

The song perfectly captures the common experience of women in this world

However, the chorus entirely subverts this, speaking through the viewpoint of an empowered and independent woman who ignores these expectations, with lyrics such as “I’ll do whatever I want to”, “I’ll be whoever I want to” and “What makes you think you get your say”. The song perfectly captures the common experience of women in this world, written to represent Baron-Gracie’s experiences as a front-woman of a band in the public eye, and the judgement and criticism she faces.

The album closer and title track Who Am I? summarises the entire album perfectly. A raw and heartfelt ballad which Baron-Gracie wrote whilst locked in the bathroom with her guitar, the track is a cry out for help, in which she questions herself as she figures out her sources of happiness and her priorities in life, an important step in the journey of discovering your true identity, and becoming a better person.

‘Who Am I?’ is a painstakingly honest, personal and vulnerable album, tackling difficult but important topics head on, with none of the fear or uncertainty that Baron-Gracie has previously expressed when opening up about mental health or sexuality. The song-writing brings darker topics to the light, juxtaposed with the clarity and optimism that emerge when falling in love. Her bravery and openness when talking about her experiences result in a unique and special album, celebrating the ability of music to bring people together while decreasing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Fans will be able to experience the album live in 2022, as the band will be coming to Nottingham’s very own Rock City on 13th February 2022, as well as a multitude of dates across the UK. Tickets go on sale on 12th February 2021. After the pandemic prevented musicians from touring, it is reassuring that live music’s long-awaited return is now on the horizon.

4 and a half stars

Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Justin Higuchi via Flickr.  Image license found here.  No changes were made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @palewaves via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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