Overall Score: 8/10 Songs: 8/10 Production: 7/10 Replay Value: 9/10 Pros: Playful and powerful with a harder edge as well as some beautiful heartbreaking moments Cons: Slight overproduction on some tracks
Manchester alternative pop/rock group PALE WAVES came explosively onto the scene following the 2017 release of their debut single, There’s A Honey, and after signing their record deal with ‘Dirty Hit’ almost instantly won the adoration of many fans. They drew their audience in with sparkling yet bullish anthems about youth discussing issues mainly involving love and heartbreak. They did originally struggle with the band’s identity after comparisons to THE 1975 with Matt Healy almost acting as their mentor. Whilst the comparisons could be considered unfair they truly began to differentiate themselves on their following record Who Am I? (2021).
Now their latest outing sees frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie open up lyrically, previously embracing her sexuality on tracks like She’s My Religion and drawing influence from other great female artists such as ALANIS MORRISETTE, BLONDIE and AVRIL LAVIGNE. The band’s maturation continues further as Unwanted again sees the band reinvent themselves as they delve into a more alternative darker sound.
PALE WAVES seem to have shifted towards the pop-punk genre throwing in some palm-muted power chords with lively dynamic drum fills throughout, giving the anthems to love and heartbreak that harder edge. This shift actually makes sense when you consider that the record was produced by Zakk Cervini, who has worked with pop-punk powerhouses BLINK-182 and MODERN BASEBALL, as well as pop star HALSEY who we have seen occasionally drop into pop-punk.
The title track supplies us with a rallying anthem to marginalised groups, the album is a rebellious exploration into darker emotions, with heartbreaking intense opening track Lies, while You’re So Vain discusses a narcissistic partner and then we have the self-explanatory Jealously. There is a great contrast in themes with the moving track Numb exploring struggles with mental health.
The band’s goth girl angsty persona really suits this slight shift in style especially when we hear that spirited youthfulness in lyrics like “wish I could go back to the night I met you/so I could tell you to go to hell”. However, it’s not all about that as there are elements of joy and love sprinkled throughout as in the anthemic Clean and the rather appropriately named Reasons To Live. It is in these moments of optimism that the album shows PALE WAVES at their captivating best, bringing those rays of sunshine despite the darkness presented on many of the tracks.
This is no better summed up than by the song The Hard Way which compassionately tackles a very difficult subject. Baron-Gracie reflects on the experience of knowing a classmate who tragically took their own life. There is a tinge of guilt in her voice as she utters “it wasn’t my place” and just that phrase conveys that guilt even if we couldn’t have changed anything, we always feel we could have done more when it’s too late, it is truly heartbreaking. Although this ballad is accompanied by more playful songs about exes, it expertly manages that shift in tone and is treated with the sincerity it deserves.
Of course, beautiful sometimes playful lyricism, as well as sugary melodies, are PALE WAVES’ forte, there are some occasions where a track can feel a little overproduced. The excellent vocals of Baron-Gracie sometimes don’t need all those effects and layers. For example, Numb could have done without the harmonies and left Baron-Gracie‘s vocal to stand on its own to truly reflect the vulnerability prevalent in the song. Unwanted perhaps isn’t as big a shift in tone as their previous album but it still represents a progression in the band’s sound and shows them go a little bit heavier and bringing in those pop-punk influences.
Unwanted is available now via Dirty Hit
For more information on PALE WAVES, like their official page on Facebook.