We want Fifth Harmony to do well. We certainly do. Not only because they’re a group of talented young women of color in a music industry that still engages heavily in white-washing and people like Dr. Luke still roam free, making millions of dollars off of the very people they abuse, but because we’ve witnessed the girls’ individual capabilities since their X-Factor debut. They have shown us the range of their skills in different occasions — most recently, Lauren Jauregui gave us an amazing performance alongside Halsey for the Hopeless Fountain Kingdom cut “Strangers” — but they’re still yet to prove that they’ve reached top-tier status.
2017 rolled in, and the challenge of following up the success of their sophomore record 7/27 became even tougher, due to the departure of Camila Cabello and the drama around the split. Fifth Harmony has the most intense fandom in pop music — at least in Western pop; K-Pop fans are unstoppable — and the schism between Harmonizers and Camilizers has been brutal. Fans and Media have questioned the fate of the group after its most recognizable face has gone solo, so the release of their self-titled third album, and first as a quartet, feels very much like a test. This may be the reason why they’ve decided to play it safe, displaying their vocal talents on the trop-meets-trap settings that have already worked for them in previous singles.
Lead single and album starter “Down”, featuring Gucci Mane, is pretty much a re-hash of “Work From Home”, their biggest hit to date; interestingly enough, the absence of Cabello’s voice actually benefits the overall group delivery, enhancing the sassy instrumental. This is perhaps the strongest asset of this record: Fifth Harmony sounds remarkably better as a four-part harmony. The four girls have very unique tones, but they have managed to fuse them together in a very balanced manner, and their lead appearances are also well distributed throughout the album. It feels so good they’re finally a democracy.
The record’s major setback, though, is its insistence on staying in all too familiar territory. It shares the slinky production of 7/27 and it finds the group singing about very similar themes, ultimately offering next to nothing new to the table. They’re operating on serviceable, slick R&B-leaning Pop, but there are no truly big choruses and there are really few undeniable hooks worth a mention. The Skrillex/Poo Bear-produced “Angel” is the big stand-out; the darker, trap-indebted beat offers more danger and tension for the girls to explore an edgier attitude and sing about something more mature. This is a good look for them, and hopefully the blueprint for future releases.
At 10 tracks, and under 40 minutes long, Fifth Harmony is a good stand, but still not a step in any direction. The clearest statement it makes is that they’re set to become a more solid group and that they’re better-off as a quartet. There is a very bright future ahead of them, and we truly hope for the time they meet their enormous potential. The good news is that we can hear all the signs for a longer-running project. The girls are here to stay, and most importantly, they finally feel, look and sound like a real band.