Review Summary: I mention Avril Lavigne 4 times in this review, so that's a pretty good indication of how this album is going to sound.
Is maturity in music a good thing? Is it a requirement? What does it even mean to have a mature sound to your band?
These are the questions that often crossed my mind when listening to Pale Waves’ sophomore album, Who Am I?
The British band have used the same set of paintbrushes as on their 2018 debut My Mind Makes Noises
– anthemic hooks, sugary instrumentals, and impassioned vocals – but on a new canvas, tossing out new wave synth-rock in favour of 2000s pop rock. Their new sound is completely indebted to Avril Lavigne’s first two albums: it’s bratty, honest, raw-yet-polished, and most of all it’s almost flagrantly immature.
I’m not sure if that was the intention of lead singer and primary songwriter Heather Baron-Gracie. She mentioned in interviews that she had read a lot of poetry during the songwriting process, but if the album’s lyrics are any indication, it was poetry written by Tumblr teenagers. Hundreds of pop-rock artists over the years have gotten mileage out of singing about asshole partner and complicated relationships, and Baron-Gracie does the same (“Now you act like I’m nobody / But you still wanna go down on me”). There’s no shame in Avril-worship, and in fact Soccer Mommy and Beach Bunny made fantastic albums doing so just last year.
Unfortunately, the album’s lack of maturity extends beyond just its lyrics, and it’s at this point you wish its blueprint was more Alanis and less Avril. Certain melodic touches come off super cheesy, like the way “fa-a-all” is drawn out in the chorus of “Fall To Pieces” and the way “She’s no angel” is made to sound like “She’s now in jail” on “She’s My Religion”. These choices sound more schoolgirl-with-a-crush than cool-chick-songwriter. Baron-Gracie too frequently defaults to belting out certain notes in a chorus, and too often leans into her accent to sound more sympathetic. It’s effective at first, but after 11 tracks she loses the ability to keep the listener’s interest, especially over such run-of-the-mill instrumentation. When it comes to vocal charisma and variety she should’ve emulated Hayley Williams instead of Avril.
At the end of the day I’m a sucker for 2000s pop-rock, so the tracks here that get the formula right (I counted 5 out of 11) are going to be in high rotation for me. I don’t want to say Pale Waves need to mature their sound, because those 5 great tracks are cut from the same teen-brat cloth as the album’s poorer cuts. Sing about ***ty exes, sing about feeling like a psycho – as long as the music is great, *** it. You can be immature and still be compelling to millions of listeners around the world. However, I do think that the band needs to find a few more winning formulas. Who Am I?
proves that they can’t coast on just the one.