5 Seconds of Summer 'Sounds Good Feels Good' Album Review: Junk Mail
Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton, John Gonzalez and Lindsay Haddox chat about 5 Seconds of Summers new album, Sounds Good Feels Good.
Carolyn Menyes: "Hey, Everybody!" Remember pop-punk? It's 2015 and it's fairly safe to say the genre is back (not like it really ever went away) thanks to 5 Seconds of Summer and Sounds Good Feels Good. This is the Australian four-piece's second album in two years (following its self-titled debut) and, really, it feels like a case study in mid-2000s rock with just a little sprinkling of One Direction pop.
This album has tracks co-written by Good Charlotte's Benji and Joel Madden, All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth and Evanescence's David Hodges. For these four dudes who grew up on Blink-182 and the Madden brothers, this must've been a dream come true and these sorts of passions really seem to seep through into the music.
But the real questions remain... Does this album sound good? Does it feel good?
Lindsay Haddox: It's safe to say this record brought back many memories of my 13-year-old self that lived by the pop-punk scene, because who didn't when they were in middle school? Since I've heard of 5 Seconds of Summer, I've been a fan more so than I have of One Direction's (sorry Directioners). Honestly, I did not know if I would like Sounds Good Feels Good, but I ended up enjoying my first listen through. It also helps that a pop-punk band like themselves were able to get help from artists with similar style, so they were able to lead them in the right direction musically. I don't think I know many pop punk bands that are having start ups right now, but I feel that 5 Seconds of Summer is doing a pretty good job at staying true to the style of it all.
I personally really enjoyed the instrumental on the album, especially on the song "Invisible." The last 30 seconds have this absolutely amazing violin that I think is what brings so much feeling to that song. This album seemed to have a lot of meaning to them and as the listener you can hear the stories they are telling through their lyrics, I really appreciate when artists are able to bare their soul.
John Gonzalez: I’m not mad at this album at all. Pop-punk has always held a special place in my heart since the golden days of TRL, and it’s safe to say these guys would have been countdown staples if it was still around today. What I liked about it instantly was that not only is the album listenable but for the most part it’s also cohesive, which as we know is a pet peeve of mine. “Money” was a fun start to an overall entertaining album. Lead single “She’s Kinda Hot” is infectious and feels like a summer anthem; I wish I had heard it while it was still warm out.
Overall the vocals, production and flow of the album seem to work. It’s almost weird to think of them in the same vein as One Direction because these guys and their music don’t feel as formulaic or calculated, which says a lot considering how many pop-punk (and TRL) vets they pulled in to help put it together. “The Girl Who Cried Wolf” was the most 1D song on this project and personally I could have done without it. I will say at 17 tracks it is a bit long and the records did start to blur a bit, but the quality was so consistent that I didn’t mind it as much. Felt like one long party at a skate park.
Ryan Middleton: Oh I remember pop-punk and sitting around in my Led Zeppelin or Iron Maiden shirts back in middle school avoiding Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance like the plague. Now a little wiser and a bit less snobbish (I hope), getting into 5 Seconds of Summer, things are not all bad on the western front. They certainly know what they are doing and who they are doing it for. This well-crafted, well-written pop-punk with superb production that finds a niche and hits that target demo like few bands today are doing.
The album sounds good, but how it feels is a bit of a mixed bag. The slower, more personal ones defintely tug on a heartstring like "Broken Home" and "Invisible," but the more upbeat tracks, while catchy, can grow tiresome.
CM: It is fascinating to me just how young 5SOS skews. Sure, their lyrical content really targets those 13 and 14-year-old girls with those vague descriptions of how much they may or may not like you, with just the right amount of angst and attitude to make them the "edgy" alternative to 1D. While a song like "Hey, Everybody!" or "Jet Black Heart" would have had a perfect place on alternative radio a year ago, the world of rock completely ignores them.
That seems totally dismissive until, yeah, you hear a song like "The Girl Who Cried Wolf," which I was shocked to find out didn't have a One Direction co-write on it or deluxe album closer "Carry On," which also sort of has that boy band feel to it locked in to its tenderness.
The argument of whether of not 5SOS is a boy band or "real" band aside, I can't help but admire the band's love of good hooks. Also in true pop form, the top half of this album is stacked with smash single material. The first five tracks (which were conveniently all released ahead of the album) all pack a great punch. "She's Kinda Hot" is a lyrically odd song; it balances sort of sexist thoughts toward female authority figures with a rally cry to disenfranchised kids. Logically, it doesn't make any sense, but if you just sort of accept the songwriting and focus on the quirky hooks and that My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers" inspired chorus, you can't help but sing along.
"Hey, Everybody!," "Money" and "Permanent Vacation" have similar themes and structures to them, once again, making them irresistible. They're balanced out by album highlight "Jet Black Heart," which reminds you that a pop-punk ballad can be really emotional and heartfelt. If I were still 12 years old, you know I would have been writing these lyrics in all my AIM away messages. I thought that "Broken Home" and "Invisible" were a little cheesy and obvious, however, especially when compared to "Jet Black Heart."
Beyond the first five tracks, how do you think this album sort of shapes up? I think it's solid after that but it definitely takes a bit of a nosedive.
LH: I think in general the difference between a boy band and a "real" band is really hard to make these days. Back in the day, Fall Out Boy or let's say Panic! at the Disco would have been considered so-called "real" bands, right they all play instruments and whatever. However both groups have kind of taken turns in music and become a lot more poppy than they once were and I think this is where the line between a boy band a real band can be quite blurred. However, I would say that because the boys of 5SOS do all play instruments and have a band type of set up, so you could definitely argue in favor of them being an actual band.
Anyways, like Carolyn said the first five songs on this album really are great and capture your attention. However, it is in the middle of this album that kind of gets a little eh for me. This is where I would say the energy slows down just a little bit from their big intro of hits in the beginning of the album. They kind of put a lot of their somewhat slower songs together instead of breaking them up and that kind of slows the album down a little bit, which can definitely make it feel like an even longer listen when there are 17 songs on their deluxe version.
5SOS really used older pop-punk songs as influence for this album and to create their image in general. If you listen to "Invisible" the beginning of it sounds a lot like Fall Out Boy's song "Thriller" just slowed down a bit. I will say that they are doing a good job of keeping the whole pop-punk movement alive.
We keep talking about how they appeal to a younger audience, but when most of us were enjoying the pop-punk scene we were all quite young as well. 5SOS isn't making cheesy love songs someone else wrote for them and doing choreographed dancing on stage, instead they are writing about things they have personally been through and making music about it all. With the support of and help from some of the biggest names in the pop-punk world I think this is what helps them from being categorized as just another boy band.
JG: Yeah they are clearly straddling the line between boy band and rock band, but it’s a cool place for them to occupy. The lines between pop and rock are long gone, and even some of our favorite rock bands from the early '00s have gone on to become major pop acts. he fact that they do play instruments and are involved creatively really did help bring a layer of continuity to this album that many of their pop contemporaries are missing.
I agree with you ladies that it is a bit top heavy, but everything is so on or around the same sound that it still managed to flow even with all the slow burners hiding out in the middle. 5SOS is one of the many acts in recent years who have relied more heavily on EPs than LPs, so it makes sense that their album would feel like three EPs sandwiched together. I didn’t enjoy “Jet Black Heart” as much, it’s a good song but it’s really safe and predictable. I do agree that the writing on “She Kinda Hot” is all over but being introduced to this band for the first time today it was the main song that made them stand out to me. It has a level of quirkiness that I think many acts now, boy band or rock band, couldn’t pull off.
RM: The album is top heavy in terms of single material, but the rest of the album is where they actually try and express themselves. Sure there is help from some of the best songwriters in the business on like Sean Douglas and Bonnie McKee who are more R&B and pop writers, which lends itself to their really good hooks and the feel
I was a bit thrown off by the writing on "She's kinda Hot" and I could see it be an appeal to the teenage dude bracket. Why not make it cool for dudes to listen to 5SOS, so they can listen to it with the chicks in class? "Jet Black Heart" felt like the strongest of the potential singles -- it has a bit of a classic sound and the guitar riff does the trick.
For how successful these guys are (arena tour scheduled for next year), this is only their second album. They are still working out how to write a full album instead of a bunch of EPs or singles. There is some continuity in Sounds Good Feels Good, but it does feel uneven.
CM: Yeah, I think the sort of single-heavy writing style and the way this album is tracked (with all the singles at the top of the LP) helps solidify 5SOS as more of a pop act than a rock one. The marketing doesn't help either.
I do think, however, this album has a strength to it. While the energy sort of drains out after song No. 5 and only picks up a bit with something like "Castaway" or "Fly Away," there's an emotional support and core to this album that is pretty strong. That's where the continuity comes in that you may be lacking sonically, Ryan.
While a song like "Invisible" reads a little stereotypical to me, the track is a relatable look in to depression for a target 5SOS fan. You also have these sort of lessons about divorce ("Broken Home"), breakups ("The Girl Who Cried Wolf") and being a poor kid ("Hey, Everybody!") that will resonate with these youngsters. They're trying to fill that My Chemical Romance void by rallying together all the disenfranchised and messed up teens, and I think they do it well. I don't know, maybe it's because I was a sort of sad kid, but I can see this record being a help to people. It succeeds on that level, so I appreciate it.
LH: I think it's pretty cool what 5SOS is doing, because they are bringing back a genre that when it peaked it really was a voice to kids/teens and they could also relate to it. Of course any person or band is going to have a love song or break up song, but I think that's where 5SOS goes deeper than most boy bands and dig into actual real feelings of theirs and bring awareness to them.
Like realistically, when was the last time you heard a pop star sing about their family divorcing in such a way that actual speaks of what has happened? With songs that speak about emotions that many people have it makes it easy for the every day person to relate to. None of them came from much before their music and that speaks heavily in different songs through the album. It's not all completely sad and with songs like "She's Kinda Hot" and "Hey Everybody!" fans and listeners can enjoy the fun that 5SOS has to offer.
Like Ryan said earlier, this is only their second studio album and they are still learning a lot. This is not a bad follow up album to have and I think it really is allowing 5SOS to do what they want as artists. I think it'll be really interesting to see how they continue to grow and transform as pop-punk artists.
JG: I’m interested in seeing how they grow as well. Naturally these acts get more pop with time but it would be cool to hear their music reflect more of their influences like Blink-182 and Green Day. I like their use of harmonies and the dynamic in their voices.
I do note the group’s effort at creating some heavier material. The last half it littered with a lot of emotionally driven records, and given their younger audience I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone of these records take off as anthems for their respective subject matters. Overall everything is super radio ready and catchy.
The album does have a strength to it Carolyn, and as I get more familiar with them and their fan base it’s obvious this album was structured to be listened to like a teenage girl. All the party stuff upfront with the slow burners hanging out at the end for fans to slowly get familiar with over the next few months after they run the first five tracks into the ground. This album also does a great job at setting them up for the impending maturing that will eventually happen. While they are still young, songs like “Airplanes” and “San Francisco” are clearly leaning towards a more adult contemporary future that these boys can live in when the tween madness eventually dies down.
RM: Yeah, they have really found their target audience and nailed writing songs for them in a variety of ways. Hitting on various stages and causes of depression or heartbreak, they and the album songwriters knew exactly what they were doing when putting this together. Three of them are still 19 years old, while drummer Ashton Irwin is 21, so that teen audience is still within their grasp and can remain their for a few more years. Beyond that they may have to find more mature topics to write about. However as they have said in the past, a lot of the songs come from past experience, so they will have different things to write about.
The ordering of the songs is like a pop album though to make sure people are hooked with the catchy singles, coincidentally mostly written by members of their forbearers Evanescence and Good Charlotte who know a thing or two about writing big songs in this genre. These are the ones that will be the big hits in stadiums and arenas, but the superfans will get to know those slow burners, those will be the tear-jearkers live.
LH: 5SOS was able to create an album based on their past, their likes and really were allowed to do as they pleased and at the same time created a well formulated pop-punk album that will have every teenage girl falling in love with the band. With a band that is as young as they are age wise and the fact that they haven't been around extremely long I am very impressed by their second album. I really see a bright future for them and cannot wait to hear more from them.
RM: 5SOS built on their self-titled debut and created an album that they will be able to tour on for at least another one or two. It is a well-written, well-produced sleek piece of pop-punk that puts these guys at the very top of the genre that has been pretty much dead for a long time. The group knows their audience and has reached them in just about every way possible with this album, giving them the perfect launching pad for bigger and better things on future albums.
JG: 5SOS is no Blink-182, but they are also no One Direction, and for that I’m thankful. This pop-punk quartet have found a nice balance between flavor of the month pop songs and pretty strong album cuts that can see them follow in the footsteps of former rock bands turned pop acts like Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5. Here’s hoping they hold on to some of their foundation because “She’s Kinda Hot” needs a sequel or two.
CM: 5 Seconds of Summer is still trying to find the balance between pop and punk, but Sounds Good Feels Good demonstrates good growth for this Aussie foursome. Lyrically, this album is far more mature than the band's self-titled debut and these guys still know how to craft a good hook. Now, they just need to break away from that "boy band" stigma and they can potentially usher an era of rock back onto the charts.