‘Who Am I?’ feels like a time capsule of a bygone era
Last week, punk-rockers Pale Waves and Mod Sun both released their latest albums – Pale Waves with ‘Who Am I?’ and Mod Sun with ‘Internet Killed The Rockstar’. However, while Mod Sun may be the one dating Avril Lavigne, it is Pale Waves who have recreated her quintessential sound down to the finest detail on ‘Who Am I?’. Any of the eleven songs off the LP feel like they could’ve been pulled off Lavigne’s ‘Let Go’. Everything about the album is designed to conjure early-00s vibes, all the way down to the cover art: which nails completely the early-00s aesthetic; all the way down to the fuzzy camera quality and chunky highlights sported by the band’s front woman.
‘Who Am I?’ doesn’t ask much of listeners and hopes in return that you too won’t ask too much of it. The sophomore album doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, in fact, the exact opposite – the album is an unashamed pastiche. At times it feels like every effort has been taken to make sure nothing about this album sounds modern, new or original: it feels like a time capsule of a bygone era – if someone told you all these songs had been written and recorded in 2004, no one would question you.
When you make no attempt to update or reinvent your genre; when you proudly embrace pastiche, the pressure for your songs to represent the very best – and only the very best – of your genre suddenly increase. In turn, Pale Waves frontload ‘Who Am I?’ with big hooks and head-bopping choruses. Standout track ‘She’s My Religion’, makes you wish COVID was over and you were standing in the front row of a Pale Waves concert shouting out the lyrics “She’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical / She’s forever angry at the world / She’s no angel, but she is my religion”.
However, often times the band fail to sufficiently lay the foundation for these big choruses. The lyricism on ‘Who Am I?’ is disappointingly dated and basic: the album is chock-a-block with clichés about grass that is (or isn’t) greener on the other side, keeping the lights on, sinking and being trapped. The hope is that the hooks are big enough and the choruses catchy enough that they’ll distract you from the subpar lyricism – and they do for a minute – but that’s not enough to sustain an entire album; especially during the more subdued moments; which largely just end up coming across as insipid and uninspired.
There are moments on this album where the band reach for genuine warmth and depth. Many of these – ‘Odd Ones Out’, ‘I Just Needed You’ – fail to stick the landing. ‘Run To’ and ‘Tomorrow’ are the closest the band comes to succeeding in achieving any sense of depth. ‘Tomorrow’ – despite it’s occasional reliance on cliché – is commendable for it’s message; which is essentially asking those struggling with mental health issues to keep going (“Won’t you stay alive? Give it one more try?”). While, ‘Run To’ is written from lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie to her mother; trying to reassure her (“I’m not doing A-class drugs like you think”) and reminding her mother of her importance in her life (“It’s always you that I run to”). Neither of the aforementioned tracks manage to reach the same levels of depth as many of their contemporaries are capable of, but they hint at a more affecting, multi-dimensional side of ‘Pale Waves’, but ultimately, that’s what ‘Who Am I?’s’ biggest problem is; it is a hint of what the band are capable of, rather than a display of it. The album asks “Who” Pale Waves are but between the derivative sound and textbook lyricism, ‘Who Am I?’ remains quite a way off from answering that question.
Best tracks: Change, Fall To Pieces, She’s My Religion, Easy, Tomorrow, Run To
Worst Tracks: Odd Ones Out, I Just Needed You