5 Seconds of Summer differentiates itself from boy bands with new album ‘CALM’


5 Seconds of Summer attends the Jingle Ball 2015 red carpet on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

William Becker, Staff Writer

Do you know what I really hate? I really hate advertisements. When you really sit down and think about it, ads are everywhere. If you turn on your phone, if you google something, if you check Instagram, Facebook, Reddit or Twitter, you can expect to see some company trying to sell you something. If you go driving, you can expect to find advertisements on the side of the road. The same can be said for watching Youtube, going to the movies, going to concerts, etc. If you go outside and do not live in a box, somebody somewhere is going to be trying to sell you something. 

When you are talking about pop music, you have to keep in mind that it is designed with the intent to sell copies, to push units. That does not mean anything about the music’s quality, otherwise, why would any artist ever write singles?

If you are an artist, chances are that you want people to listen to your song. Writing catchy music that has a formula is the best way to do that. Writers at Mic wrote a fantastic piece about why a lot of pop music sounds similar, and the gist of it is that as a genre becomes more popular, it also becomes more generic. This is not hard to fathom, as Taylor Swift is probably more popular than the current state of

5 Seconds of Summer performs at the Q102 Jingle Ball. The Q102 Jingle Ball was held on Dec. 11, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia

classical music. That is not to say that Taylor Swift is bad and that classical is good, it is just to say that it is easier to digest a three-minute single than it is to digest a twenty-minute movement with no lyrics.

An AC/DC song with three chords is easier to appreciate than progressive rock. Music that is more popular usually resembles other music that is popular because of the existence of trends. So, when you are talking about bands like 5 Seconds of Summer, you have to ask yourself just how it differentiates itself from other boy bands such as One Direction, Why Don’t We, Big Time Rush, Jonas Brothers or even groups like Maroon 5 and Fall Out Boy.

Is there a reason to listen to 5 Seconds of Summer over the aforementioned bands? What makes a group stand out from countless other groups that sound similar? This might be a needlessly pretentious way to analyze music, but in 2020, when there is a seemingly endless reservoir of music to choose from, these questions are worth asking.

On 5 Seconds of Summer’s most recent album, “CALM,” (an acronym of the band member’s names: Calum, Ashton, Luke and Michael) the band tries to establish just how different they are while still wearing their influences on their sleeves. Opener “Red Desert” echoes the choruses of songs like “Carry On My Wayward Son” from 70s rock band Kansas. It is a pop-punk anthem and certainly a fitting opener for the album. It is interesting how the guitar has taken a back seat and functions more as a stylistic tool here, giving the sound more texture and nuance, as opposed to riding simply on riffs.

“No Shame” has a chorus that is most certainly an earworm and is hard not to remember. It is very boy-bandish if any description can fit. The verses echo bands such as Muse, with lead singer Luke Hemming’s vocals not sounding too far off from that of Matt Bellamy’s.

“Old Me” unfortunately has an intro that I have heard a countless amount of times, most recently in “Fly” by Highly Suspect and “Grip” by Bastille. It is painfully generic, and every moment after the intro does not deviate too far from this. While it is not a bad song by any means, it is too familiar-sounding to be interesting.

“Easier” sounds like a combination of a Panic! At The Disco song and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. It is not quite derivative of either, taking more inspiration from 80s groups like Depeche Mode than “Closer,” but the similarities are very apparent.

5 Seconds Of Summer performs on The Today Show on Oct. 28, 2015 in New York City. (Dennis Van Tine/Abaca Press/TNS)

“Teeth” sounds like industrial rock had a baby with 90s era nu-metal. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine plays guitar on the track, but like “Red Desert,” it is used as more of a tool than a driving force behind the song, to the point where the distortion could easily be mistaken for a deep sounding synth. Its placement on the album is jarring in that it is so different in sound from the other songs, yet it manages to be one of the more interesting moments here.

“Wildflower” has a pretty clear new-wave influence and again, is one of the better songs of the bunch. “Best Years” relies so heavily on its hook that it becomes more annoying than it is catchy. “Lover Of Mine” is more indie-pop sounding than most of the other songs, but the blend of styles certainly is not a bad thing. 

“Lonely Heart” is yet another anthem on the level of “Red Desert,” with gang vocals from all four members of the band. By this point, the pulsating beat underneath the verses becomes a trademark for the group’s sound, but occasionally, the effectiveness starts to wear thin and become slightly repetitive. The rolling drum sound and catchiness found in the chorus more than makes up for it, but it is still worth noting how reliant they are on the same sounds. “High” is a more lowkey and somber note to end the mostly upbeat album on, and as a closer, I find it perfect.

At its best, “CALM” uses its inspirations and the hallmark sound of 5 Seconds Of Summer to create something that is really fun to listen to. “No Shame,” “Teeth,” “Lonely Heart” and “Red Desert” are obviously album highlights, but “Old Me” and “Best Years” fall into the territory of being just a little boring. Regardless of this, the high moments are certainly worth listening to and prove that 5 Seconds Of Summer is a lot more than One Direction with more guitars. There is a lot more heart and spirit than a lot of naysayers would want you to believe.