Remember when 5 Seconds Of Summer were touted by the rock media as the scene’s next superstars? It seems like a distant memory now, but that period represented the pinnacle of rock’s obsession with pushing a pop crossover, and with support from All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth, Good Charlotte’s Madden brothers and scene producer extraordinaire John Feldmann, and extensive touring credits with One Direction, 5 Seconds Of Summer were prime candidates, only to get royally shafted when Twenty One Pilots proved to be a more viable crossover. And it’s easy to feel sorry for 5 Seconds Of Summer now, a group of kids promised the world only to have it ripped from under them, and now going into a third album where no one but their most dedicated fans really cares.
So on Youngblood, you can’t really blame 5 Seconds Of Summer for abandoning their straight-laced pop-rock for a trendier, more synthetic brand of pop, and on its own, that could work for them; with the clout and contacts they have, the potential for compelling pop is very much a reality. But Youngblood is not that album, and by roping in a litany of pop producers and songwriters, this is as clear a statement as any of how fed up 5 Seconds Of Summer come across, and how this album is simply one to get over and done with as painlessly as possible. That’s pretty much across the board too, building on the romanticised ‘80s and 2000s sounds to not only verge as close to mainstream safety as possible (which is debatable as to whether that’s actually achieved), but also sideline the majority of their established strengths. The dynamic of a four-man vocal team is basically nonexistent now given how each performance is crushed into the exact same tone with only minor inflections to differentiate them, and Ashton Irwin’s once-detailed drumming – previously the thing that had set them the furthest apart from both other pop-rock bands and boybands – is now a total afterthought, replaced by flat, programmed slaps like on the title track, or emerging for the odd roll on Moving Along that’s never built on or developed.
With those taken away, what’s left is a shockingly barren album from a band who clearly have no idea how to manage this sound effectively, to the point where any highlights feel like flukes. Still, credit needs to be given for the few moments where 5 Seconds Of Summer do land on a workable pop core, like the lithe, neon coats of Want You Back and Empty Wallets, the more imposing bombast from the horns on More, and especially the lush, jittery new wave of Talk Fast. Everywhere else though, Youngblood is such a flimsy, inactive listen, hindered drastically by production that overtakes anything organic while simultaneously slicing it to ribbons. There’s rarely a vocal performance across that entire album that sounds enthused or carries either the exuberance or the youthful emotion that the band’s previous material had, while guitars reduced tiny, tinny fragments on Lie To Me and a general inability to get past second gear on Why Won’t You Love Me and Woke Up In Japan come across as even more toothless. And with a lack of collaborators and co-writers that could bring any interesting flair to the lyrics, they default to hapless teen-pop clichés replete with basic-as-hell imagery and language that makes the lack of enthusiasm all the more apparent.
But more so than most, bringing all of that up feels like kicking a band while they’re already down. 5 Seconds Of Summer are not the same draw they once were, but if there was any hope of going back to that with Youngblood, that can be struck off straight away. The diehards will undoubtedly adore it, but when it feels like the band themselves are going into this album at half speed, it’s hardly going to lead to a believable final product in the end. And this most certainly isn’t that, capturing 5 Seconds Of Summer at their lowest ebb with little to no chance of them pulling back from it. It’d probably do less damage to just call it a day at this point, because nothing good is going to come from this now.
For fans of: Maroon 5, Shawn Mendes, Hey Violet
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Youngblood’ by 5 Seconds Of Summer is out now on Capitol Records.