5 Seconds of Summer have ostensibly yielded the “boy band” aesthetic for a more mature brand of songwriting-at least through their eyes. The Australian group consists of Luke Hemmings (rhythm guitarist and vocalist), Michael Clifford (lead guitarist), Calum Hood (bassist) and Ashton Irwin (drummer). If you care enough, the title of their fourth album is emphatically named after each member; almost explicitly signaling a self-seriousness in their approach to everything they do musically.
Ever since the days of opening up for One Direction, 5SOS have been underneath the scope of the major label system (in this case Capitol). CALM signals the first instance of an “independent” project; at least according to the trademark at the bottom of Apple Music. Fans are equating this change of stature to experimentation from a stylistic standpoint, which is partly true in my opinion.
Sure, the group is attempting their first shot at a “concept” album; one in which splits itself in two halves-the hopeful first passage where the band pledges their allegiance to their home in South Wales on “Red Desert” (a power-rock ode to a continent in distraught after those horrible wildfires), and finds ebullience in the midst of personal actualization-a la “”No Shame” and “Old Me.” But without a constant thread of an actual thematic direction, the band tends to get lost in their brash attempts at developing catchy melodies in the midst of splintered songwriting.
Even with 5SOS’s apparent transition to artistic “independence,” CALM still unabashedly functions as a studio-made scrapbook of ideas that are never fully-fleshed out. The project’s second half for example attempts to be more vulnerable in sound and perception. “Best Years” is drenched in reverb to the point where it distracts the heart stricken lyrics headlining the song itself. “Not in the Same Way” utilizes repetitive wordplay almost as filler for loose thoughts that never come into fruition (“Hurricane, insert name/We’re good at this game, game/We fight and we fight, then you call me a psycho”).
The group ultimately fails at reaching the level of toxicity they want to portray in their songwriting because they’re walking a fine line between multi-dimensional edginess and radio-friendly hodgepodge. It’s almost as if they’re trying to reach as wide of an audience as possible while sacrificing their identity in the process. “Old Me” could be an emotionally poignant inspirational cut if not for the band’s blatant attempts at withholding certain expletives that could really add depth to bland motivation. “Wildflower” suffers similar problems. There’s not much to attach too other than the band’s collective screech of the word “wildflower.”
The project is at its best when 5SOS decides to add vivid imagery and metaphorical contemplation to their production. Despite “Best Years'” bombastic nature, the lyrics are some of the best on CALM (“You’ve got a million reasons to hesitate/But darling, the future is better than yesterday/I wasted so much time on people that reminded me of you”). “Lover of Mine” also benefits from a fluttering guitar riff and passionate vocals from Hemmings. The roaring drums halfway through the track are a nice touch to the song’s urgent tone too. Moment such as these are few and far between due to the group’s undying tendency to over-blow every instrument in the mix.
Some subtly in general could’ve been really constructive for a band that evidently goes against the album’s title. This is far from soothing. If anything, it’s hectic in its search for a true identity. There’s the banal essence of short-term love and drunken heartbreak but none of it amounts to much. I’d almost prefer the spunkiness of previous endeavors. At least there was very little pretext in the music itself. CALM on the other hand suffers from underdeveloped themes and riveting originality. Ironically, there’s no tranquility or pulsation-just blandness.