Music Times writers share an office area of roughly 45 sq. ft, which makes having face-to-face conversations totally impossible. Junk Mail is these millenials' attempt to discuss and review the week's hottest album releases... without needing to look at each other.
This week: Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling, and Caitlin Carter email back and forth about 5 Seconds of Summer's self-titled debut album.
Carolyn Menyes: Because I am a music journalist that gives the people what they want, I've been following rising pop-punk boy band 5 Seconds Of Summer for quite some time now, and these young Aussies have finally released their debut album. So, it's sort of nice to see all this build up and anticipation come to fruition, at least for me.
I think we'll all agree we're not really the target demographic for 5 Seconds of Summer, so this album is a little more difficult for me to dissect. As a 23-year-old woman, it's just not so much my taste. But if I were 12 or maybe even 13, I would eat this stuff up. It can be really infectious.
Kyle Dowling: I'd agree that we're not the target demo for this album. I do think, however, that the 8th grade and early high school version of myself would totally dig something like this - #PowerChords #PopPunk. But now, as I sit here as an old ass 27-year-old semi-man, I can say it's just not for me. But, I do have to give these guys credit because they're releasing songs that have interesting hooks and catchy riffs and I think it's something that the younger generation is really going to enjoy ... obviously, considering they're crazy popular already.
But I must admit, the very first line of the chorus on the first track, "You look so perfect standing there in my American Apparel underwear," made me want to turn it off. However, being a true profession, I stuck with it. You're welcome, folks.
Caitlin Carter: I had that same thought after hearing the "American Apparel Underwear" line.
But I went into this trying to imagine myself as their target demographic, and now it totally makes sense why they've blown up. The bubbly pop girls already have their dream boys in One Direction, but the more alternative tweens need some boy heartthrobs of their own, and 5SOS fits the bill. The type of girls they are singing love songs to are the girls who probably shop at Hot Topic, are really into collecting vintage band T's and are beginning the search into their musical preferences. At 12 years old, you're just beginning to find out what you actually like, and for those with more rock-leaning tendencies, 5SOS is a great starter band.
Other than the fact they play their own instruments, they stay true to the boy band formula: singing songs to an abstract girl who could be any one of their fans. They also follow the pop-punk sound, but unlike predecessors such as Sum 41 and Blink-182, they reply more heavy on the "pop" side of the genre and definitely aren't as edgy.
CM: 5 Seconds Of Summers' fans are very adamant that they are NOT A BOY BAND, OKAY?! But, just because you play guitars doesn't mean you're not a boy band... look at Hanson. And these guys really are One Direction protégés, so you know... if the Hot Topic Converse fits... Joey, who is not junk mailing this week, likened 5SOS to Avril Lavigne, which just could not feel more accurate to me. I don't know why that connection didn't pop into my mind before but it's so correct.
What these girls need to know is (and maybe 5SOS too) is that being a boy band isn't so bad. I mean, I just saw Backstreet Boys last year, and it was awesome.
Those points aside, the music here is really harmless and that's kind of nice. That's a great point, Caitlin. It's really transitional between the world of pop and the world of rock, so it's a great middle band for teenagers. Plus, these guys and their writers really can nail a hook. These choruses pack so much punch to them, and I've had 5SOS songs stuck in my head pretty consistently for the last month or two. I can see why they're hitting it big.
Last point... the American Apparel line is gross, just because that company is so gross. It really is a hang-up, and I do not approve of that message.
KD: I don't particularly understand why there's such a negative connotation with the term "boy band." At some point, we have to establish that it's great these guys are being able to do what they love for a living. Not saying that we're saying that here, I just mean the general perception from the public. Anyway, despite my personal lack of interest in the album - just because it's not my type of music - it's hard not to respect the amount of success they've gained at such an early age. And to Carolyn's point about it being harmless music, I certainly agree that it's rather refreshing. Re: American Apparel - let's all agree that they have wonderfully soft t-shirts and that's about the only good thing coming from the company.
Is there anything you both didn't like about the album in particular?
CC: I think the album would have been more interesting if it weren't just about girls. Every song is about a girl in some way or another, but I know that these guys have more going on in their lives than girl problems. I think they could relate more to their demo (and possibly reach outside that market) if they would write songs about other aspects of life.
CM: They're pulling that One Direction card there, and I think they're just trying to target that tween market so the lyrical content is OK for now.
As for things I didn't like... Callum Hood's voice really rubs me the wrong way, and I don't like Luke Hemmings' vocal turns all that much, either. It's the sort of whiney, slightly nasally sneer that is traditional in pop-punk, but it's just never been my personal musical preference.
But, I think we're on the road to saying this album is bad, no? But it's not. For what it is, 5 Seconds of Summer is a really solid effort. It's a debut album, so targeting too specific to a demographic is going to be there, as will a few little youthful bumps in the road. But! I think the song craftsmanship on this album is kind of flawless. The slight tempo changes in all the choruses? The swinging beats? The endless hooks and melodic guitars? This album is full of earworms.
I dare you to not get "Don't Stop" stuck in your head whenever we end this email chain. It will happen.
Do either of you agree? Is there something to like here, taking this album for what it is?
KD: I wouldn't say the album is bad. Far from it. I think, for what it is, it's actually a good debut. It's filled with lines, riffs and hooks that'll be difficult to get out of your head - despite your preferred genre of music. Even the aforementioned American Apparel line is embedded in my head.
Honestly, I don't necessarily mind the vocals all that much. I think the lead singer's voice blends rather well with the band's sound. Sure, that nasally sound is pretty traditional, but it is what it is. It works for their sound, which may not be any different from the pop-punk bands of the past (to some degree) but I think the one thing they have going for them is the strong songwriting. It's obvious that the band and their writers worked very hard to put forth a solid debut.
CC: I agree. They definitely know how to craft a catchy tune, and that's no easy task. I've read that they are very adamant about writing their own songs. They were even hesitant to include "Amnesia" on the album because Good Charlotte's Joel and Benji Madden penned it. The fact that they are already such strong writers at the point of their debut gives me hope for their future releases. Another beacon of hope for 5SOS is that their expiration date isn't the same as typical boy bands. They have the potential to grow their audiences as they grow older and write more mature material without feeling like a bunch of old dudes singing to little girls.
CM: That's smart. These guys are smart. I respect that. Do we want to dissect specific tracks now?
Despite being written by the Madden brothers, I think "Amnesia" is a real pretty standout track. The emotions in the lyrics are really raw, and even if I don't personally care for their vocal styles, they really sell that heartbroken message. "Everything I Didn't Say" has a lot of the same kind of honesty to it. I don't even really have a life full of regret but these songs make me feel some type of way.
I've already talked about the hooky merits of a lot of the record, but "Don't Stop" really takes the cake. That "you know it" refrain is the perfect sort of swing. It makes me want to dance kind of immediately.
KD: I think one of the main stand out tunes for me on this album is "Social Casualty." The lyrics are pretty important for their target demo: finding who you are and who you're "supposed" to be. I also think the chorus is just plain catchy. And, being a big Green Day fan, I can't help but hear little pieces of Billie Joe Armstrong in the lines "Don't wanna be a victim of authority. I'll always be a part of the minority." It's very much like Green Day's "Minority" (at least that part).
Aside from that, "Don't Stop" has some damn good patterns that I can't help but tap my foot along to. As you pointed out, Carolyn, it's a song that really makes you want to dance.
CC: I thought "Social Casualty" really exemplified their use of "punk" in "pop-punk." It's angsty and totally reminiscent of Green Day, like Kyle said. I also got a kick out of "18." One of the best things that pop-punk bands did in the early 2000s was add humor and a bit of self-deprecation to their songs, and "18" is a good example of that.
CM: For what it is 5SOS' 5 Seconds of Summer is a really solid effort. This thing has earworms for days and is just really perfect for its target demographic. The fans won't just love this album, they will devour it, and I can see them having One Direction levels of success pretty soon.
KD: While this 5SOS record is not my favorite type of music, I can certainly respect the amount of work and craftsmanship that went into writing these songs and recording this album. It's a great pop-punk record and I think it's a wonderful taste of what these guys can actually do. There's no doubt in my mind that fans of these guys are going to love this album. And I also believe it'll grab them a ton of new fans. Debut albums are always difficult but this group certainly did knock it out of the park!
CC: I can definitely appreciate 5SOS' debut for what it is. These guys show real talent, especially in writing lyrics, hooks and riffs that are catchy. I hope that down the line they start to write about themes other than girl problems, but I think they definitely have the tools needed to be successful in the long run.
What did you think of the album? Let us know in the comments section below!