Back in 2015, 5 Seconds of Summer seemed poised to fill an interesting space in the music industry. With the young, boyish charm of the soon-to-go-on-hiatus One Direction and the irreverence and rock soul of early All Time Low, they could have followed the mid/late 2000s pop-punk path they seemed to be blazing for themselves, but instead they just…disappeared. But last Friday, they made their highly-anticipated comeback with their third album, Youngblood.
It feels like that scene in Avengers: Infinity War where Starlord goes to fire a gun, but all that comes out are bubbles: a big build-up for something that ultimately feels anticlimactic.
Here’s the thing. It’s not a bad album. The hooks are catchy and the lyrics are generally pretty sharp, sometimes even poetic in places. And the title track, “Youngblood,” is a strong opener, establishing new sounds in a similar manner to what “Young And Menace” did for Fall Out Boy. The issue is in the stylistic changes, which feel forced and inauthentic for them.
5 Seconds of Summer are very clearly playing with ’80s textures and sounds, as demonstrated in tracks like “Talk Fast” and “Valentine,” which isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s just that it doesn’t work for them. The album sounds like something that could be expected from the likes of The 1975 or Troye Sivan, both artists already known for embracing and incorporating synth-y sounds into their music. For a band whose roots lay in “I Miss You” and “Jasey Rae” covers, Youngblood feels jarring and not in a good way.
It’s natural for bands to experiment with new sounds; it’s unreasonable to expect artists to continually produce the same kind of music all the time. But at the same time, when musical risks are taken, bands run the risk of losing themselves in the experimentation, and that’s what happened with Youngblood. The soul of this band got buried in snappy percussion and bouncy basslines, and the result is an album that sounds fine, but lacks heart.
Perhaps 5 Seconds of Summer aren’t at that stage in their careers yet where they can pull off a sonic change like this one. Perhaps they haven’t truly found a sound they can call their own yet. Perhaps this old fan is just clinging to the pop-punk stylings of their second album. Whatever the reason, it remains to be seen whether this new sound represents a new direction overall, or if it’s just a temporary detour. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for John Feldmann’s return.