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Pale Waves frustratingly play it safe on Unwanted

"Unwanted"

Release date: 12 August 2022
6/10
Pale Waves Unwanted
10 August 2022, 11:15 Written by Marie Oleinik
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At the first glance, it seems like all conditions are there for Pale Waves to become one of the generation-defining alternative acts. They are signed with a cult label Dirty Hit, tour with The 1975, while Zakk Cervini (Blink-182, Halsey, Machine Gun Kelly) produced their newest offering.

The band's first two albums, My Mind Makes Noises and Who Am I?, generated enough buzz to warrant support slots for Muse, The Cure, and 5 Seconds of Summer. Dressed in leather and edgy makeup, Pale Waves look gorgeous on a stadium stage. But why aren't they headlining those yet?

With emo nostalgia and guitar music revival in full bloom, Pale Waves' new LP Unwanted arrives perfectly on time. The Manchester band continues their journey down the path paved by Avril Lavigne, The Pretty Reckless, Paramore, and other alternative trendsetters from early 2000s, and they do it well. Eight years is plenty of time to perfect the route to a great guitar-pop anthem. The problem is that Pale Waves never dare to step off it. Perhaps, they are comfortable exactly where they are, or maybe they want to play it safe and stick with what works. After all, it got them this far.

Loaded with power chords, angsty lyrics and punchy drums, "Lies" kicks the doors to the rest of the album wide open. It is such a fun song that deserves to be played at full volume, as you curse someone who wronged you. Like any good opener should, it keeps you eager for more, but the spell doesn't hold for long. By the the fifth track "Alone," I was already struggling to stay engaged with the album. Another ten minutes, and Pale Waves completely lost me, as my hand kept reaching for the phone to switch between the same three apps as vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie made yet another vague rebellious statement. All songs merged into one, and the LP felt so dragged out. Its runtime could have been cut by a third, and Unwanted would probably gain more than it would lose.

In fact, the record only regained my attention during "You're So Vain," but just because it sounds so much like Olivia Rodrigo's "good 4 u" that it's only a matter of time until someone on YouTube makes a mashup of those two songs. Ironically, "good 4 u" itself triggered a copyright discourse for its resemblance to Paramore's "Misery Business," ultimately pushing Rodrigo to credit Hayley Williams and Josh Farro as songwriters. So does that make Pale Waves a copy of a copy?

Still, Unwanted has genuine highlights even if it grows boring and repetitive as an album. Calm and bittersweet, "The Hard Way" might be one of the best songs in the band's catalogue, a gentle reminder to protect the vulnerable. The energetic "Jealousy" will make for a fantastic singalong at live shows. Besides, Pale Waves stand proudly with the community of misfits and LGBT fans, so Unwanted's message will resonate with many of us who have also felt that way.

It would be a shame to see a band like Pale Waves lose their momentum. A younger generation may turn to them for answers, while millenials will find comfort in the band's homage to the MTV-era icons. But there has to be more substance to make it last. After all, what's the point of an album that plays like a Warped Tour compilation when we can just listen to a Warped Tour compilation? There are at least 20 of those.

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