Album Reviews Music

Album Review: ‘Who Am I?’ by Pale Waves

Words by Maja Metera
Image courtesy of Ian Cheek PR

Who Am I?, released February 12 2021, is Pale Wave’s second album, created during the tiny obstacle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to lockdowns, most of the song were produced by Rich Costey (Muse, Foo Fighters) virtually with two members of the band in LA and the rest in their bedrooms in the UK. From very first notes, it is clear as day that Matty Healy, with whom the band worked closely creating their debut album, My Mind Makes Noises, in 2018, did not produce this album. Moreover, it does not bear any signs of Costey’s previous work. Let me explain.

After listening to the album for the first time I had a strong suspicion that the 11 songs were created for two different projects and glued together – which has already been foreshadowed after the release of the four singles – Easy, Change, She’s My Religion and You Don’t Own Me. The more I listened to the tracks, the more blended and connected the sounds seemed, but I couldn’t help but think that the lyrics just don’t quite create a complete whole. But let’s start from the beginning.

Starting off strong, the first song we hear after hitting play is Change – a song that’s perfectly poised to attract the generation of Zillennials – people born too late to be Millennials but not really identifying as Gen-Z. The acoustic guitar and “I got out of an unfitted relationship” lyrics recreate that nostalgic feeling of listening to early Miley Cyrus, Camp Rock and Avril Lavigne, and that’s the general vibe of the tracks one through five which include next two singles – She’s My Religion and Easy.

She’s My Religion is said to be deeply personal for the front-woman of Pale Waves – Heather Baron-Gracie. It is meant to represent “same-sex relationship between two women in its true form, without hiding behind the clichés of over-sexualisation or playful experimentation”. She speaks of her lover as a painkiller, and as a pair of glasses that impact the way she sees the world (perhaps a tongue-in-cheek critique of a blind faith?), explaining its mysteries – just what religion does for people. For her, two songs later in Wish U Were Here, God is a woman. Yet something doesn’t seem right. Here is where I draw a line between the aforementioned “two projects”.

Supposedly, this sophomore album is supposed to be Pale Waves’ manifesto of inclusivity, self-discovery and being whoever you wish to be. Nonetheless, the first half of it doesn’t really align with that idea as they talk about love, heart-break and seem to criticise those of us who aren’t sure who they are sexually. It made it really difficult for me to dive into the thinking process behind the title. Then it started to get better, less “early 2010s pop”

Tomorrow, the 6th tracks, commences the Holy Trinity of Who Am I?. It tells us that sexuality isn’t a choice and that the life might suck now when the 20-something year olds work dull 9-5s – but there is always tomorrow and tomorrow will be better. I just need you (track 8) – a piece to satisfy fans of the first album – makes you want to cuddle with your significant other and thank them for showing you how little we need to feel happy in life. It exposes magazines for making us insecure consumers. And You Don’t Own me is described best by Heather:

“You Don’t Own Me is a song for women about what it’s like to be a woman in this world. How society depicts, judges and criticises women on a daily basis. This song is incredibly important to me and I wanted to represent my own experiences. I also wanted to say a big fuck you to everyone that plays by these fake delusional rules that women and gender need to fit inside a specific box”

Songs 6 through 11 save this album from being another dull one to be played in the background – even though they still don’t sound like the Pale Waves we know and love. But maybe they don’t need us to love them? Track 11 – Who Am I? – shows they certainly are not defined by love or by how uncomfortable their hurt makes people feel.

Read our review of Pale Wave’s debut album here.