5 Seconds of Summer ‘Sounds Good, Feels Good’ – Review

9 Nov

It doesn’t take much to topple the throne on which a boy band sits. Most of them stay together for five years at the very most and it only takes one bad single, literally in many cases, for the dream to shatter. And so it all hangs in the balance for Five Seconds of Summer, heirs to Busted and BFFs with One Direction, who seemed to burst into public consciousness overnight, in the UK at least. Their early singles were fizzy, relentlessly energetic, enthusiastic and utterly addictive. The album itself was also pretty good as these things go. 5SOS looked like a boy band, talked like a Boy Band and walked like a Boy Band – but they were better than most. Alas, second album ‘Sounds Good, Feels Good’ undoes a lot of the good work of that debut.

The band have teamed up with established pop-punk idols like Good Charlotte, Goldfinger and All Time Low to co write this material. These writers take the band out of their youthful sweet spot and in to deeper, darker, but always family friendly, waters. We still get a healthy dose of ‘why won’t she date me’ concern but these anxieties are now conveyed alongside slightly more weighty themes. So ‘She’s kinda Hot’ addresses society’s prejudice against teenagers, ‘invisible’ tackles depression, ‘Permanent Vacation’ is about youthful despondency and ‘Hey Everybody’ becomes some kind of teen pop communist manifesto.

While they’ve teamed up with artists at the punkier end of the ‘pop punk’ spectrum to write the album, perversely, the production is actually poppier than on the debut. The general pace is slower, the melodies are brighter and the quest for hooks is almost exhaustingly relentless and over the top. It’s a frustratingly tame and laboured pop record in terms of pacing but one that fills every second and space with some kind of silly noise or effect. More damningly however, the songs just aren’t all that strong. Early singles ‘she’s Kinda Hot’ and ‘Hey Everybody’ came out just as summer ended and tellingly flopped. Nothing else on here stands a chance of repeating the success ‘She’s so Perfect’ or ‘Don’t Stop.’

What’s most notable about the album, taken as a whole, is how pessimistic it is. The enthusiasm and good humour of the debut is replaced by a teary eyed sadness. Memories linger in the mind, dreams haven’t come true and love has been abandoned. ‘There’s no ever after’, ‘heartbreak I can’t escape’, ‘I’m lonely like a castaway’ – and that’s just one song of many like it. It seems life ain’t so easy at the top, even with screaming teenage girls chasing after you and the world at your feet. But then their understanding of women is often rose tinted or juvenile – they don’t leave any room for subtitles of emotion. Often they come over as petulant and needy; mean spirited at best, sexist at worst.

But then this is actually fairly typical of teenage boys – which is exactly what 5SOS are. They are a likeable, hard working and talented, if somewhat irritating, bunch of lads and we shouldn’t be throwing them under the bus just yet. If you find it hard to stomach a bunch of handsome, privileged, celebrated , drooled over teenage boys singing about how rubbish life is then this album won’t be for you. But give them a break. The lyrics are sometimes precisely crafted and occasionally nuanced; endearingly honest and hopelessly romantic. It’s one respect in which I think the album actually works. ‘San Fransisco’ and ‘Outterspace’ are finely observed, emotive break up songs that convey an authentic, lived experience of lost love. There is potential here.

But the fact they’ve developed a more interesting lyrical perspective is irrelevant when the very point of 5SOS’ existence is to produce hit singles. Make know mistake, that is why we listen to this band. If I wanted emotional maturity and lyrical sophistication I would, and do, listen to Radiohead, Vampire Weekend or whoever. What I want from 5SOS is what ‘serious bands’ just can’t provide. Bags of energy, sugar coated melody, goofiness and youthful spirit. On their debut they provided that and this time they haven’t. ‘Sounds Good, Feels Good’ doesn’t sound good and it certainly doesn’t feel good.
4/10

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