Manchester’s Pale Waves recently released their sophomore album ‘Who Am I?’ many bands have struggled with the quality of that “difficult” second album, but not Pale Waves. The band appear to have taken a really difficult road to the follow up to 2018’s ‘My Mind Makes Noises’; constant touring, a near fatal bus crash, having to record in the midst of a pandemic and perhaps the weight of expectation after that first LP. But those experiences seem to have inspired them to greatness. This is a stylish and classy collection of perfect pop rock tunes. Heather Baron-Gracie’s voice is strong and reminded me at times of Taylor Swift. But there is also a pure crystal clarity to her vocals which hint at what Karen Carpenter might have done if she had taken more of a rock direction.
The album has so far spawned a quintuple of essential singles including opener “Change” which builds slowly into singalong view of a relationship that needs to change. After four or five spins I think “Fall To Pieces” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, at least for now. This is another track dealing with relationship issues, with lyrics which are at times brutally open. “She’s My Religion” kicks off with instrumentation that might have opened a Cure tune back in the early 80s, then Heather’s voice kicks in and you know instantly that this is a 21st Century song. The lyrical couplet “She’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical. She’s forever angry at the world” is sublime wordsmithing! I can picture bouncing around in a sunny festival field on a high while listening to the band perform “Easy”. Excuse the pun but it has an easy pop dance lilt to it. A broken relationship is the subject of “Wish U Were Here” and once again the lyrics sound simple but for me they are the work of a first class genius. How can you not love the pre chorus refrain of “I look at pictures of you, I’m getting nothing back. If there’s really a god, why won’t she give me that?” Next up are a brace of songs that draw on the best of the Go-Gos; “Tomorrow” and “You Don’t Own Me”, the latter of which is one of my favourite tracks on the album, but frankly it is a tough competition. As an album ‘Who Am I?’ really lives up to “all killer, no filler’ status.
I love the message in “I Just Needed You” which perfectly sums up what is the difference between what we want versus what we need. It is also a supremely radio friendly song which would have been played to death back in the hey day of US FM radio in the 70s. “Odd Ones Out” has a real acoustic, almost folky feel and such a gorgeous, dreamy, perfectly harmonised chorus. The band are particularly tight throughout the album but for me they come across as the consummate ace band on “Run To” the rhythm section hits perfect cadence and the harmonies are spot on. The album closes with the title track “Who Am I?” a deep, powerful ballad which feels influenced by Alanis Morrisette. Every so often a song comes along that makes me cry, this is one of them. Heather opens her heart wide and sings with so much emotion and soul. For me this is about the black dog of depression and is simply wonderful. This is a faultless release and a further springboard for what should be much deserved huge success for Pale Waves. It is a record that traverses the strange road the world has travelled in the last 12 months taking us from euphoria to depression and onward to hope! Roll on the return of festivals and gigs, I need to see Pale Waves play live.
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