I have a soft spot for artists who got their start at a young age. Let’s just get that out of the way. From the Biebers to the Lovatos, I really struggle to critique anyone who had the responsibility of fame thrust upon them before they fully developed into a real person. 5 Seconds of Summer fall into that category. However, like a true professional, I am going to try my damnedest to push that aside for the band’s third full-length studio release, Youngblood.
Unlike their previous albums, Youngblood doesn’t attempt to claim the pop-punk label (and honestly, thank god because that was always a bit of a stretch). The band waved goodbye to the Madden brothers and the not-so-subtle “Sugar, We’re Going Down”-sound-a-like riffs and dove headfirst into the world of pop.
While that change loses some of the band’s boyish charm, it’s a sure signal that the band has matured into a new stage of their lives.
Much of that maturation is shown off in frontman Luke Hemming’s vocals which serve as a highlight of the album. Where melodies or lyrics (or other vocalists’ vocals) may fall flat, Hemmings carries the extra weight. He gave us a taste of the 80s falsetto featured heavily throughout much of the record with the band’s first singles “Youngblood” and “Want You Back”.
“Valentine” will immediately remind listeners of 21 Pilots’ “Stressed Out” and for good reason. Both tracks were produced by Mike Elizondo. The song’s punchiness makes it a stand-out on the album, but not necessarily a good one. The track will likely polarize listeners, and it will be interesting to see the general consensus. For me, “Valentine” causes a viscerally anxious response I can’t quite explain.
Tracks like “Talk Fast”, “Moving Along” and “Better Man” offer a fun, peppy beat masking potentially heart-breaking lines like “Have you been eating breakfast alone like me?” and “Demons I tried to defend, but I couldn’t get enough”.
Is Youngblood revolutionary? No. Does it offer anything remotely new to the music world? Also no.
That being said, we should all give Youngblood a chance. Why, you may ask, should I waste my time listening to a seemingly subpar album that will undoubtedly be hailed as the second coming by thousands of 5SOS devotees? Let me tell you.
For a band who skyrocketed to unprecedented levels of fame after touring with One Direction and pushed out two albums practically within a year of each other, you have to applaud them for taking a risk with the album. While its contents may not be groundbreaking, Youngblood delivers something completely different from 5SOS’s discography, and that takes guts.
Plus, I’m going to retract what I said in the opening paragraph – we have an obligation to look after our young musicians, musicians who (whether they wanted it or not) were forced into the spotlight before they could even legally drink and lost any sort of anonymity the majority of us rely on to get through our adolescent years.
In the age of social media, anyone (especially anyone with a blue checkmark next to their name) automatically becomes subject to truly insane amounts of attention on either end of the spectrum. On the one hand, you have a hoard of fans who would honest to god die for you. On the other, you have hundreds of people wishing you would just die. Both sides of the coin would be hard to manage, let alone having to do both simultaneously. The resulting effect can be an understandably isolating experience.
It’s exactly that effect that much of the album speaks to. Lines throughout the record point to trying to drown out the loneliness and inner demons with partying and booze, but none do so as beautifully as the last track of the record. “Ghost of You” breaks your heart in a gorgeous way. Hemmings and bassist/vocalist Calum Hood lament a failed relationship and the utter loneliness that follows: “I chase it down with a shot of truth / Dancing through our house with the ghost of you”. In fact, if you were still on the fence about listening to any of Youngblood, I implore you to at least listen to “Ghost of You”. It’s a sad but truthful way to end the album.
All in their early twenties, the Aussie band already feels the draining effects of fame. If we owe them anything, it’s to see them through and to try our best to do better by our next generation of kids who just want to make music.
Want You Back
Lie to Me
Ghost of You
Young the Giant