Music Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: Pale Waves – Unwanted

Photo Credit: Katia Temkin 

Pale Waves are riding on a huge wave of success right now, having recently returned from a run of US dates supporting 5SOS, putting them firmly on the radar of those across the pond. Their third album Unwanted will once again be released via Dirty Hit, but this time Pale Waves are able to celebrate with a series of intimate shows; the polar opposite to when previous release Who Am I? was unleashed in the heart of the pandemic last year. Having revealed four singles ahead of the album fans had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but who knows what the rest of Unwanted holds!

Opener and single Lies slams the listener straight in with punchy vocals from Heather Baron-Gracie; a stark reminder to those who cross her and think their mistakes will be forgotten. We’re left hanging as the track progresses, waiting for an explosive musical moment which unfortunately never seems to arrive. Title track Unwanted is littered with 00’s pop-rock/punk guitar lines and a bold singalong chorus. Throw in some backing vocals and the repetitive riff, and you have a belter of a track perfect in a live setting. Taking this up a notch or ten comes angsty anthem You’re So Vain, which is where Pale Waves are at their best on this album. Sassy, in-your-face and unforgettable in the space of a three-minute track with a filthy guitar riff and repetitive cheerleader-esque vocals, as well as the perfect combination of messy moments and relatable lyrics including “you’re so vain, I’m in pain”. It might not be winning awards for original lyrics but the production on this track, helped by Zakk Cervini, flaunts rousing instrumentals and crowd participation moments galore.

 Jealousy and Reasons To Live have become fan-favourites. Jealousy’s opening riff will have you hooked, while fluttering tempos create a perfect musical formula and layered moments offer the chance for drummer Ciara Doran to get a starring role. We found ourselves screaming along to “In my defence, jealousy’s my best friend” and having a dance, whilst happily admitting it! You might have already seen Pale Waves’ fun, self-shot video for Reasons To Live, where they’re simply enjoying each other’s company and having the greatest time. Singing as an ode to those around you who give you something to hold onto after those dark moments, its infectious melody runs through your head long after the track ends. “You picked me up when I was down on the floor, you showed me how to love myself a little more” is a truly wholesome lyric, which you can visualise friends screaming into their faces at one of the band’s forthcoming headline shows.

Lyrically this is a stronger effort from the quartet, offering sincere moments which will help listeners resonate. An example of this is Alone with the standout lyric “wish I could back to the night I met you, so I could tell you to go to hell,” which is incredibly impossible to hold back from screaming into the world. Disjointed at points with an overuse of backing vocals, it touches on the regret of getting involved with someone with a poor reputation. Who hasn’t been there? Album masterpiece The Hard Way gives insight into past experiences and the impacts they’ve had. Baron-Gracie recently explained the single was written about a high-school experience, where a girl was bullied then took her own life: “thought it wasn’t my place, but I learned the hard way”. This is one of the hardest tracks to listen to on Unwanted, as you hear the lasting impact these experiences had but in a truly tasteful and respectful manner. The track throws in a curveball with a rousing musical backing, which reaches climax with explosive drum lines before questioning “why did someone have to lose and why did it have to be you?”. It’s painfully beautiful.

Listening to Unwanted as a whole, there are a number of moments where it feels like the band have lost their way, of what the album is trying to be or who they’re trying to be. Take Clean, with sickly-sweet, American film soundtrack vocals – it’s questionable and bubble-gum pop to the core. The album then rolls into Without You, a sombre effort giving a breather mid-release. Sadly, it ends up feeling too busy, as layered musical sections take away from the hope-filled lyrics about overcoming loss in your life. 

Unwanted closes with the upbeat, soft-rock number So Sick (Of Missing You), another love song moment where you miss someone but can’t forget them how hard you try. We feel like this is a topic we’ve visited already within the release, as you see the experience evolve and the other side to this with Without You. The closing track left us feeling flat, like one big hurrah was needed to actually close the album, but instead Unwanted just fizzled out.

It feels like Pale Waves are lost at times during Unwanted, taking us in circles musically and lyrically, dropping us off at random points along the way due to the lack of musical direction and plethora of genres attempted. Pigeon-holing yourself to a genre isn’t necessary, but as weaker tracks have made the cut on the album and standout for the wrong reasons, we’ve been left wanting something more than Unwanted has given us. Despite this, there have been pure moments when the slickness and musical experience the band house has been showcased, giving us reassurance that the Pale Waves we all know and love are still standing strong, and maybe these tracks will have a whole new take when performed live.


Standout Tracks: You’re So Vain, Alone, Reasons To Live

For Fans Of:Avril Lavinge, Against The Current, Wolf Alice

Written by:  Nicola Craig

Nicola Craig
Head of Live with an unwavering love for the seaside, live music and writing about others instead of myself. Twitter: @nicolalalalar