From the moody cover art to the track names, the angsty lyrics to the noughties electric guitar, Pale Waves make no secret of the artist who has heavily influenced their second studio album, Who Am I?, set for release Friday 12 February on Dirty Hit.
Accentuating the standoffish pose of lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie, arms crossed with a direct gaze to camera, the album artwork directly mirrors that of punk pop princess Avril Lavigne on her 2002 album Let Go, and that’s far from where the resemblance stops. Much like Lavigne’s back catalogue, Who Am I? is a celebration of difference; a collection of anthems for adolescents who don’t quite fit in; an emblem of encouragement.
Despite opening with recent single, the angsty, compositionally conventional ‘Change’, it’s songs like ‘She’s My Religion’ that stand out amongst the fuzz of distorted guitar and heavy drumbeats. The raw electric riffs and prominent vocals create a tone of vulnerability and honesty, the lyrics “She helped me find a different kinda love/ Made me feel like I was finally enough” conveying the pinnacle of a journey to discover self-worth. Described as a “queer anthem”, the song is a comment on the lack of LGBTQIA representation in indie rock music, and a track Baron-Gracie herself states she wishes she’d had “when I was a young girl trying to find [myself] in the world.”
Prejudice and self-acceptance are prominent themes throughout the record, with tracks such as ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and ‘Tomorrow’ simultaneously tackling themes of homophobia and sexism within society. Directly entreating a series of different personas, ‘Tomorrow’ discusses the media perpetuated pressure on young women to look a certain way – “I know the magazines say to be skinny/ You’re one of a kind, just trust me” – as well as offering comforting solidarity and reassurance through the lyrics “Sexuality isn’t a choice/ Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong.”
Meanwhile, the brash, bouncy guitar of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ is typical of the confrontational rock of Lavigne and her peers, and offers an insight into day-to-day sexism as Baron-Gracie sarcastically redirects misogynistic slurs back at their derivatives.
Who Am I? is far from musically ground-breaking. In showing their appreciation, Pale Waves directly mirror the tropes of their icons and have developed their sound only so far as to pay homage to another artist. Nevertheless, the record poignantly broaches personal, relevant subjects in an accessible way, providing an emotional outlet for those who are in need of reassurance and encouragement – and delivering a heavy dose of nostalgia for everybody else.
Who Am I? by Pale Waves is out February 12th on Dirty Hit, you can buy and stream it here