5 Seconds of Summer – C A L M (Album Review)

What the world needs now is calm, sweet C A L M. Here to deliver just that, Aussie rockers 5 Seconds of Summer are prepared to issue their soothing fourth full-length amidst the chaos, and it arrives Friday, March 27th, 2020, thanks to Interscope Records.

Not many bands today can say that they got their start on YouTube performing Pop-Punk covers. That is, aside from beloved Australian quartet 5 Seconds of Summer (affectionately abbreviated 5SOS), who have been touted by Rolling Stone as the “biggest new Rock act in the world,” won countless awards, toured with the likes of One Direction and The Chainsmokers, and released three impressive albums over the past six years, all Billboard No. 1 releases (that would be 2014’s self-titled debut, 2015’s Sounds Good Feels Good, and 2018’s Youngblood). At the height of their career, worldwide hysteria was such that it even caused the band to take a moment to step back, reset, and rediscover their musical focus.

So, when we last heard from the Aussies, on the aforementioned Youngblood, they were poised to enter a new chapter of their development. For 2020, they continue that sonic evolution as they search for a landscape of C A L M. An acronym for the band member’s first names—Calum (Hood: Vocals/Bass), Ashton (Irwin: Vocals/Drums), Luke (Hemmings: Vocals/Guitar/Piano), and Michael (Clifford: Vocals/Guitar)—the collection continues to organically branch outward. Produced by a cavalcade of collaborators, including (but not limited to) Matthew Pauling (311, Good Charlotte), Happy Perez (Ariana Grande, Miguel), watt (Shawn Mendes, Post Malone), and benny blanco (Justin Bieber, Julia Michaels), the 12-song album defies genre.

C A L M opens to the bluesy soul of “Red Desert,” making an immediate impact. This builds into Spanish-flavored guitar work and sultry, catchy choruses that step beyond anything the band have done previously, weaving more eclectic influences amid their delicious Pop sensibilities. The vibe completely changes as they twinkle across the senses with “No Shame,” a bold, sassy stomp that takes a frustrated look at our shallow society’s infatuation with attention-seeking behavior and fame.

Shout out to the old me,” begins the aptly-titled “Old Me.” A pat on the back for defying expectations, one that blends some smoky R&B into the mix, here the boys confess that each mistake is a learning experience. Providing props to their former selves for soldiering onward, they take this moment for some languid self-hype. Then, continuing to show their vocal maturity, the boys enter “Easier.” Anchored by a sensual EDM backbeat, they raise the eternal combative question—should I stay or should I go? (Yes, that was a The Clash reference!)

Bass grooves into the intimate “Teeth”—with a scrumptious Fall Out Boy influence—before they embrace an upbeat ‘80s vibe as they dance through the flirty “Wildflower.” This all paves the way for the delicate ballad “Best Years,” which allows a respite before the guys amp it back up to get funky for “Not In the Same Way.” The emotional dilemma of being in love with someone who doesn’t return that love, it’s an emotional look at being the one that knows they should let go—even if letting go is so hard to do. Meanwhile, initially anchored in sweet piano, “Love of Mine” blends thick bass and atmospherics to craft a quirky but enjoyable ballad with some EDM feels.

Next on the menu, “Thin White Lies,” with its languid pacing and sultry vocals, crafts a perfectly bittersweet earworm that flows into “Lonely Heart.” Beginning with tender acoustics, the track allows for a return to that one-on-one intimacy before it builds into a wall of harmonies and a toe-tapping beat in the name of longing and loneliness. Ultimately, they end with the saccharine sweet vocals of the mostly acoustic, minimalist “High,” the tale of a maturing man who is letting go and moving onward. A perfect summarization of the entire album, thematically, it shows 5 Seconds of Summer’s pride in their ability to take the next step—both sonically and personally.

For those fans that are still jamming out to “Hey Everybody!” and going emo for “Jet Black Heart,” C A L M is going to be a shocker. Leagues beyond their previous works in maturity and eclecticism, the album will come as no shock to those that have been along for the entire ride and have already experienced Youngblood. Obliterating the box and crossing genres fluidly, the Australian quartet bring R&B and EDM into their sound portfolio, crafting an album that never conforms and is always candid. With their luscious harmonies, divine Pop sensibilities, sophisticated new arrangements, and an ability to dissect their lonely hearts openly, it seems like there will be no stopping 5 Seconds of Summer. For all of this, Cryptic Rock gives C A L M 5 of 5 stars.

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