Photo Credit: Pip
Upon hearing the song “Lies,” some listeners might at first think that their ears are lying to them, and that they’re not in fact listening to the opening cut from Pale Waves’ third album Unwanted, but rather to veteran pop punk princess Avril Lavigne. Indeed the similarity – of both the musical approach and Pale Waves’ lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s voice – is impossible to deny. This is more apparent on some tracks than on others, but the Manchester, England band does manage to present some distinction at different points on the album.
In fact, the band alters the tone (somewhat) just a couple of songs in with “Hard Way,” which at least for its first half is presented as a heartfelt folk ballad (before rocking out in the second half, which also works). “Jealousy” is also good, offering up a strong instrumental break and just a hint of British ’80s new wave and as well as some fine lyrics (“In my defense, jealousy’s my best friend”). Appropriately titled “Clean” is total uptempo pop, even for this album (which is saying something), in which Baron-Grace sings with an even cuter demeanor. There’s not much problem with equally energetic “No Problem,” which also offers up solid guitar and bass parts, courtesy of band members Hugo Silvani and Charlie Wood, respectively.
“You’re so Vain” is not Carly Simon’s 1971 hit, but also takes lyrical aim at some unnamed individual who’s clearly full of themselves (yes, just like the other song with that title), with Baron-Gracie addressing them in a defiant, echo-y talk-sing, which she also makes work. Generally speaking, in fact, she’s been gifted with a voice that is both strong and appealing, even capable of the occasional advanced vocal task (as heard on “Numb”), and could probably make it in any number of musical genres should she care to.
It came out very recently that Travis Barker was meant to contribute to the album but was unable to due to a scheduling conflict. While the Blink-182 drummer’s presence on just about any project might, outwardly, seem welcome, in the case of this album it might instead have been the final straw, with Pale Waves officially crossing the line from formulaic to generic, had they become just another pop-punk act benefitting from Barker’s musical stamp of approval (even without Barker, Unwanted contains a song called “Act My Age,” a title which obviously recalls that of Blink-182’s 1999 pop-punk classic “What’s My Age Again?”).
“Act My Age,” is tight and fun, like most of the album. Closer “So Sick (Of Missing You)” is a mid-tempo radio-friendly pop song that also drops the “f” bomb several times, as if to continue the notion that the band is trying to show both sides of the pop-punk coin. The album has already been Top 5 in the U.K. but has yet to chart in the U.S. (for whatever one wants to take away from that). Those who want a tight and fun pop-punk album with a female lead singer are probably going to want Unwanted. Those who want rock that stands out a bit more from what else is on there, on the other hand, might not.