The growth that the boys of 5 Seconds of Summer have displayed over the past few years has been truly impressive. Their eponymous debut album housed hits in the punk-pop influenced teen boyband vein like “She Looks So Perfect” and “Amnesia.” It was easily to dismiss them as a flash in the pan given the storied shelf life of boy bands and the music industry’s shift to hip-hop/rap dominance. Neither of those factors stopped the boys, though. Their underrated sophomore album, Sounds Good Feels Good, had great tracks like “She’s Kinda Heart,” “Permanent Vacation,” and “Jet Black Heart.” The album was a continuation of the overt punk-pop influence that shaped their debut. Interestingly, after a hiatus of sorts, the boys made the surprisingly smart decision to pivot to a glossier pop sound. Their blockbuster third album, Youngblood, was a renaissance for the band and their sound. They moved into a sonic field that was dominated by synths and electropop instead of brash guitars and drums. The rock and punk influences were still there, but they matured the bratty tendencies of punk-pop with their strongest songwriting yet. With CALM, the boys build on the foundation of Youngblood and deliver a more consistent record than their last.
The album’s opener, “Red Desert” is a slightly gospel-influenced affair that doubles as a semi-acapella ode to reigniting love in a kind of joint solitude. The song is built on those huge intricate rock harmonies pioneered by Queen, Eagles, Phil Collins, etc. 5SOS, in turn, puts their own spin on this element of classic rock by blending it with a proud display of talent from the band’s rhythm and percussions section. Ashton Irwin (drums) and Calum Hood (bass) show up in full force on the song’s second half, cementing a rousing and impressive album opener. It should also be noted that Luke Hemmings, the band’s primary vocalist, is a consistent force on CALM. His vocal performances are much improved from past albums and they really sell songs. From there, the hits keep rolling. A number of the band’s loose singles from the past year appear on CALM. The breezy pop-rock of “Easier” and the electro-punk of “Teeth” fit nicely in the context of the full record. Another one of the album’s pre-release singles, “No Shame,” is a strong track that shows the band’s matured songwriting. On earlier records they had materialistic songs like Sounds Good Feels Good‘s “Money,” but now the boys are taking a more nuanced approach at discussing society’s obsession with fortune and fame. This theme of self-reflection of growth continues with the group’s latest single, “Old Me,” a soulful rumination on their early days in the spotlight. Other standouts on the album include “Wildflower,” which draws on the 80s pop influence that has been dominating music recently, “Best Years,” and “Not in the Same Way.”
CALM is a very strong record that is only bogged down by its back end. “Lonely Heart” is an attempt at channeling the new wave vibe of Depeche Mode, but the derivative lyrics prevent the song from reaching its full potential. “High,” is a somber closer to the album, but after so many high-energy tracks, ending the album on two lackluster back-to-back ballads was not a wise choice. The album’s momentum stalls instead of offering the listener a more balanced pace. CALM is great; if Youngblood didn’t make it clear enough, 5SOS are pop music forces.
Key Tracks: “Red Desert”; “Teeth”; “Wildflower”