Total Number of Tracks: 13
Songs you might know:
– “No Shame”
– “Old Me”
My prior relationship with the album and artist: Like most people, 5 Seconds of Summer first became a blip on my radar when they started opening for One Direction. (Have I mentioned that I LOoooOOOOve One Direction lately? Because I do.) I 5 Seconds of Summer (5sos) for passing the sounds of pop punk onto Generation Z and even got some enjoyment out of their self titled debut (which I’ve reviewed here). But I also didn’t feel like they were putting any fresh new spin on the sound, and so I had trouble generating any real excitement for them. With the second album, Sounds Good Feels Good, (which sounded a lot like the first) I started thinking “okay, I get the schtick, it’s fun, but I’ve heard it before.” They were never one of those bands where I followed every album rollout and needed to hear every new song as soon as it dropped.
Fast forward to their third album, Youngblood, where I do genuinely love the title track, but it also wasn’t enough to get me excited about the whole album. It just felt like another pop punk band deciding to go full pop, probably because they realized that pop punk isn’t the most commercially viable enterprise in 2018. I had heard some of the songs from C A L M prior to its release (“Easier” and “Teeth”) but they still felt like decent but generic pop songs, nothing that got me fired up to hear more. But hey, spring of 2020 is a weird time in history with lots of extra time for media consumption, so I gave this album a chance. I’m glad I did.
My impression this time around: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by C A L M. Usually whenever rock bands “go pop” I find it to be an underwhelming cash grab, as it can be hard to make this pivot without seeming disingenuous. What separates C A L M from Youngblood is that the latter was perhaps leaning a little too heavily on trends of the time, deriving from artists like The Weeknd or Post Malone. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with deriving from The Weeknd or Post Malone, but it’s a puzzling move considering the sound of the first two 5sos albums. I’m please to report that C A L M represents growth and evolution of the band’s sound without feeling like it’s just ripping off whatever is charting well.
For the first time in four albums, it feels like 5 Seconds of Summer is growing into a sound all their own, rather than a copycat of other artists. With C A L M, we have a nice balance between pop and rock. The catchy hooks and tight harmonies of boy band pop are here, but so are the grit and real instruments of rock music. It’s clean, but not too clean. It’s raw, but not too raw. The opening track “Red Desert” does a great job of illustrating this, and it’s just the kind of high energy song that gets me revved up for the rest of the album. “Wildflower” is another great one that illustrates what I’m talking about.
Contrary to my earlier impressions of 5sos, C A L M proves that the guys aren’t just going to spend their whole careers pretending they’re 16. Many of the songs on here represent the emotional growth that comes along with growing up. There’s a great mix of the angsty energy that fans initially fell in love with, as well as self-aware introspection, and the willingness to own up to past mistakes. Hell, “Old Me” even has both of these moods in one song. The album’s sappy ballads, from the optimistic “Best Years” to the bittersweet “High” to the desperate plea of “Lover of Mine” all come from a place of regret. Each of these songs says “I know I’ve screwed up before, and I know those screw ups had real consequences that are hard to get past. But I’m trying to learn and do better now. I know I don’t necessarily deserve a second chance, but I’d love one anyway.” It’s the kind of attitude that most people simply are not capable of as teenagers, and it’s a nice departure from some of 5sos’s earlier lyrics. It’s great to see this theme come up over and over again, and yet each song finds its own way to approach that theme from a different angle.
If I had one negative thing to say about this album, it’s that the back half tends to drag a little bit for me, which is somewhat surprising given that the whole record is only 40 minutes long. Once you get past “Best Years” you’ll STILL be listening to good songs, but not really anything new or exciting you didn’t hear on the first half of the record. Some of my favorite songs come from later in the album (“Not in the Same Way” and “Lonely Heart”) but yet somehow I still tend to zone out around the halfway point every time I do a full album listen. Spotify could probably omit “Lover of Mine” and “Thin White Lies” and I wouldn’t even notice. While both “Best Years” and “High” provide some nice room to breathe among the more high energy tracks, neither is particularly memorable apart from the album context. Even “Lonely Heart,” which I’ve grown to love, took me a while to warm up to just because of the way my brain checks out around the album’s halfway point.
Who would enjoy it? I would recommend this one to just about anyone, but especially pop fans. It’s not particularly experimental, but it’s also not overly reliant on the same tropes every other pop artist is using. Overall, a great effort and certainly worth 40 minutes of your time.