Rachel Platten has been recording music for well over a decade, but it wasn’t until 2015 that Platten managed to hit the pop charts – with “Fight Song,” an empowerment anthem jam-packed with aphorisms about determination and self-confidence. Her second hit single, “Stand By You,” sounded almost identical, although it was something of a love song, making it just different enough to earn a spot on the airwaves.
Her new album, Waves, is not a bad record; on the contrary, it’s meticulously produced, and Platten’s vocals are usually pristine. However, it all too often suffers from some of the same disturbing traits as its predecessor: the songs are almost wholly devoid of character or memorable lyrics. Indeed, many of the songs sound like they could be sung by almost anyone – Ingrid Michaelson, Sia, Julia Michaels, Kelly Clarkson, or even Selena Gomez. Further, much of the songwriting is flimsy, with even more clichés about self-confidence.
The album does have some bright spots. In lead single “Broken Glass,” for example, Platten announces her plans to shatter the glass ceiling and dance on the shards; the track is her best dance song yet, and her vocals’ range and infectious energy evoke Sia. Other highlights include “Perfect for You” and “Keep Up,” both “love me or leave me” jams that have great beats and attitude to spare.
Relatability is another of the record’s bonuses, although the topics are typically those that have already been explored plenty by other artists. On piano ballad closer “Grace,” Platten battles the green-eyed monster of jealousy with relatable but unmemorable results. “Is this what I've become? Someone who gets jealous of someone?” Platten ponders atop a melancholy piano. Most of the ballads can be described the same way: melancholy, relatable, and totally forgettable. “Hands,” an ode to her nana, is the only ballad that stands out as particularly powerful; it’s a relevant tale of a strong woman who raised her family no matter what life hurled at her. Platten sounds emotionally invested in every word.
However, the problem with most of the songs on the album – is that they really lack character and occasionally find Platten repeating herself. Of the album’s first seven tracks, half are breakup songs (“Perfect for You” counts as half of a breakup song because it’s more of an ultimatum: “love me or leave me alone!” she commands). Her topical range seems modest at best, and one can’t help but feel that she just doesn’t have enough ideas to create another record quite yet.
When Platten isn’t repeating herself, she’s oftentimes repeating others. “Labels,” for example, sounds like a rewrite of Julia Michaels’ “Issues,” through a “don’t judge” lens. The song is certainly timely, but Platten doesn’t have anything new to say about labels, either: “We don't need no labels when you're sitting 'cross the table/ We're perfectly unstable” is the most profound the lyrics get. One could argue that that’s what good songwriters do: articulate the feelings of others. However, that doesn’t get “Labels” and its ilk off the hook, not when other artists have still expressed the sentiment with more memorable tunes. “Loose Ends” finds Platten berating an inauthentic ex-friend; unfortunately, she seems to have torn a few pages from Taylor Swift’s playbook. “Who told you you could put band-aids over broken hearts to fix messes you made?” is painfully similar to Taylor Swift’s “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes,” from 2014’s “Bad Blood.”
One’s opinion of Waves will likely depend on what one looks for in an album. If you’re seeking a record that’s relatable, easy to dance to, and full of feel-good one-liners, then this is certainly the album for you. However, if you’re in search of innovation or bulletproof hooks, you’ll be better off downloading “Broken Glass” and “Hands” and skipping the rest. Although it’s a fun and relatable listen, Waves is unlikely to make any in the pop ocean.