Like the Busted’s and Mcfly’s of the early 2000s, 5 Seconds of Summer’s sound and style has always been a calculated and consciously safe one. In implementing casual lyricism with playful melodic hooks, the direction taken by the Australian pop-rock quartet ultimately often boiled down to being as easily digestible and mathematically marketable as possible, reaching the intended demographic with ease and (as seen with the group’s previous material) huge success. It may not have been the most in-depth, quality material ever produced, but the band’s undeniably charismatic approach to their material suited their targeted audience enough to keep the wheels turning long after their 2014 debut.
In approaching the group’s third studio effort, it would be easy enough to assume that Youngblood just intends to stand as another proud notch in the bedpost of being a rather generic Top 10 pop-rock record, but the group’s stated intention to at least offer something different can’t help but intrigue slightly. After all, “different” can mean a great many things. And for the sake of artistic integrity, could be worth at least a chance. Take Charlie Simpson’s complete disregard of the former Busted to instead pursue the post-hardcore tones of Fightstar, for example: the group’s sound and style easily proved a huge surprise for those all too familiar with the ‘Year 3000’, with the group’s latest effort Behind The Devil’s Back receiving widespread critical acclaim. As previously stated, “different” can mean a great many things, so what does it mean here?
Well, compared to the teen heartthrob clichés of ‘She Looks So Perfect’, the most obvious observation to be found when glancing over Youngblood’s glossy, perfectly produced assortment of tracks is rather simple: like Busted’s Night Driver or Fall Out Boy’s Mania, Youngblood sees 5 Seconds of Summer eagerly joining the ranks of their many contemporaries currently enjoying the resurgence of synth-pop/rock.
Indeed, from the popping, bouncy ‘Better Man’, to the funky clean guitar riffage of ‘Want You Back’, Youngblood essentially sees 5 Seconds of Summer’s usual formula copied-and-pasted into the radio friendly aesthetics of the 80s, and for the most part the results are just as you would assume: the easily digestible lyricism and fun melodic hooks remain, but in joining the party far too late, the uneasy feeling that this might just be a desperate grab for attention and attempt at staying relevant hangs ominously in the air. Of course, let’s not forget that this has been a huge part of the band’s prerogative ever since their inception: in borrowing from the likes of Blink-182 to Mcfly, 5 Seconds of Summer’s debut and following record Sounds Good Feels Good essentially do everything in their power to relive the clichés of the early 2000s boyband pop-rock scene, and in doing so achieved virtually nothing new as a result.
Youngblood shares this agenda, but it is worth noting just how close the band sometimes comes to succeeding in offering something more interesting throughout their third studio effort: album opener ‘Youngblood’ immediately sets the stage with a far moodier vibe compared to the group’s former material, a hint of Ben Howard or Ed Sheeran’s ‘Bloodstream’ lingering in the background while the track’s thumping, galloping heartbeat of a backbone and snappy instrumentation easily results in one of the group’s best offerings of their career. Elsewhere, ‘More’ essentially takes a stab at replicating the delightfully fun aesthetics of Jungle’s ‘Busy Earnin’, while dialing things up to a far bassier level. Considering how eclectic the track actually proves instrumentally, from moody clean guitar arpeggios to huge, thick synthesizers that dominate the choruses, it actually proves a rather fun ride.
Also taking inspiration from others, ‘Talk Fast’ takes a Police-inspired route in implementing a clean, Andy Summers-esque guitar riff, before quickly leaping into glittering synthesizers and all manner of catchiness, while ‘Valentine’ proves itself a near-blatant rip off of Echosmith’s gorgeous ‘Over My Head’, albeit slower and (considering there being only a month’s difference in release date between the two) a possible unhappy coincidence.
Unfortunately, despite there being some clear moments where the group steps into more interesting territory, much of Youngblood just can’t help but stay rooted in the tried-and-tested clichés of old, and ultimately falls rather flat: ‘Moving Along’ displays a shallow, bored attempt at replicating the group’s former pop-rock hits, while the synth-heavy ‘Why Won’t You Love Me’ is as dreary and meanderingly dull as its title would imply. Elsewhere, ‘Ghost of You’ does its best at being the lovesick, gut-wrenching ballad intent on pulling on the heartstrings of the band’s teen heartthrob audience, and while well produced, it’s nothing new compared to the hundreds of other ballads that have already stamped through this extremely familiar ground.
And in the end, this is exactly where Youngblood’s greatest weakness is on full display: familiar ground. As previously mentioned, this is an album that sees the Australian quartet diving right in on an already increasingly over-saturated resurging genre, where there are already some far superior acts making far better use of it. If not the acclaimed upcoming Pale Waves, then look no further than Paramore’s After Laughter. It can be appreciated when an artist chooses to follow new territory for the sake of artistic integrity, but 5 Seconds of Summer’s all-too coincidental decision to join the ever-popular synth-pop ranks of many others in recent years displays, once again, a calculated and mathematically marketable approach to their material. In short: it will sell well and the wheels will keep on turning.