Courtesy of Interscope Records

April 1, 2020

TEST SPIN | 5 Seconds of Summer — ‘CALM’

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If you went through an edgy phase in middle school, chances are you’ve heard of Australian rock group 5 Seconds of Summer. Perhaps you remember blasting the 2014 hit “She Looks So Perfect” into your earbuds on the bus, or maybe you recall scribbling angsty poetry into a journal as the melancholy ballad “Amnesia” blared on the radio. On March 27, the band released the newest chapter in their musical anthology, a 12-track album entitled CALM.

The album continues the group’s departure from their quasi-punk roots, a trend that began to emerge in their 2018 album Youngblood. The strong guitar presence that marked much of 5 Seconds of Summer’s early work has been supplemented in their recent productions by more synthesized, techno background layers. This transition gives many of the tracks on this album a more playful impression, making this installment feel drastically different from the grounded, percussive power of previous tunes like “End Up Here” or “Voodoo Doll.”

“No Shame” is at the top of my ranking for CALM. With dynamic rhythms and a spirited chorus, the track is bursting with vitality and yearns to be cranked on a boombox or car stereo. The song feels wonderfully classic yet maintains the air of excitement upon which 5 Seconds of Summer built their following; they execute a decidedly tricky balance.

I also sense some major star potential for “Wildflower,” which boasts the same timeless feel. The chorus is explosive, the lyrics are simple enough, and the song title itself creates an animated image that practically screams summer hit.

This change in the group’s musical style accompanies a shift in their place in the musical landscape. As 5 Seconds of Summer increasingly accentuates the pop side of their identity, they appear to be moving ever closer to a more mainstream audience. In speaking of CALM alone, “Old Me,” an upbeat ode to youth and fearlessness, has earned a spot on Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist, alongside massive names like Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Harry Styles. Similarly, the electrifying “Teeth” surfaced on the soundtrack for the widely watched Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why in 2019, while the catchy, punctuated“Easier” has already seen an energetic remix featuring pop powerhouse Charlie Puth. After all, 5 Seconds of Summer did open for boy band extraordinaire One Direction way back when.

Perhaps this transition to a more middle-of-the-road audience is precisely what the band had in its hopes. According to a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, drummer Ashton Irwin reportedly stated that “We don’t want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone,” a remark that led to several scalding comments from fans. Looking at the band’s recent successes, it is no secret that they have garnered a much larger segment of the market since 2015.

While this album is certainly more inspired by pop music, CALM also includes the more placid,  reflective jams that make 5 Seconds of Summer relatable to their largely adolescent audience. “Best Years” tells of a passionate promise for future devotion, constructing a sentiment that is pervasively sorrowful yet optimistic. The last track on the album, “High,” shares in this forward-thinking orientation, discussing themes around self-reinvention and personal progress.

In this vein, the album is brimming with lyrics that show the band’s development and growing maturity. Many of the songs aim to tackle the intricacy of romantic relationships, and the writing on this album is far more complex and sophisticated than their past productions. The days of juvenile, punchy lyrics like “So tell me what else can I do / I bought my fake ID for you” (from “18”) seem to be over, largely replaced by phrases that express more adult tribulations.

 

Megan Pontin is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at mpontin@cornellsun.com.