Wednesday, April 9, 2014

album review: 'she looks so perfect ep' by 5 seconds of summer

...alright, fine, I'll talk about 5 Seconds of Summer. But let me make this clear, I'm only covering this act because I need more time to write about a whole slew of other acts in my backlog and it shouldn't take me that long to cover a four song EP. And really, I don't tend to cover a lot of EPs - mostly because I like full-length albums with arcs and artistic statements, which, for the record, you can find in pop music.

But even if I did cover EPs, I could not be less interested in talking about 5 Seconds of Summer. At first glance, these guys look like a low-rent Nickelodeon pilot with the production values to match it. Yes, I've covered teen pop and boy bands in the past, and I'll even admit some fondness for some of it, but good shallow pop music has elements that make it work or stand out. Even dumb power pop - which has been around in some form or another for decades - has the guys who stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of songwriting, melodies, or sheer presence and charisma. I'm talking about acts like Semisonic, Fountains Of Wayne, The Knack, some parts of Jimmy Eat World and Weezer. My point is that this isn't anything new, and the argument that 'well, sure, it's not new, but we can't expect teenagers to go looking for the classics because they're teenagers and they'll consume anything we shovel into their ears' smacks of real laziness and a degree of contempt for the target audience.

But hey, 5 Seconds of Summer could just be the next ones to top the heap, so I picked up the Australian band's EP and gave it a listen: is it worth your time?

Ehh... look, the one objectively good thing I can say about this EP is that there's a pretty good cover of 'What I Like About You' by The Romantics on here. But honestly, that song's presence on this EP is a great counterpoint to everything 5 Seconds of Summer gets wrong on this record. 

For one, let's look at our singers - in that all four guys have verses on this album and contribute to the chorus. And that'd be fine, if they did anything with it - they barely harmonize, there's little-to-no interplay, and their only roles as singers seem to be contributing to sheer volume over anything else, which really doesn't help the more unique voices in the band stand out or develop any personality of their own. As a unit, sure, they have presence, but not a lot else.

Granted, the instrumentation and production don't help matters, as we have another classic example of a pop rock act messing with a working formula for no discernable reason. The guitar tone is solid enough and I liked the crispness of the drums, but the mix balance is completely skewed towards the percussion, which completely buries the guitar melody. You want to know what makes memorable pop rock songs and makes stuff like 'Stacy's Mom', 'The Middle', 'Closing Time', 'Say It Ain't So', 'My Sharona', 'I'm A Believer', or, coincidentally, 'What I Like About You' such great tracks? A memorable melody-driven hook! But 5 Seconds of Summer prefer to rely on volume and thunderous percussion and a swarm of little electronic effects in the background for no purpose whatsoever, and it completely takes away from the melodies - which aren't anything special anyway.

Okay, but what about the lyrics? Well, what about them? It's telling that every single one of the songs the band wrote had problems in them that at least needed a second or third draft. The least bad is 'Heartache on the Big Screen', which tries to liken the relationship problems to a failures in a movie romance, but early lyrics suggest they've 'seen this before' and don't want to see it again, and then they're suddenly inside the movie with a ripped script and forgotten lines and they want someone to yell 'cut' and stop it - which would happen on any sane movie set. There's a decent idea here, but the symbolism is confused and there's the line 'If Hollywood could see me now, I'd get the starring role / But they won't so I'll keep acting like a fool' - uh, why would you do that? Could it be you acting like a fool triggered this break-up for all to see - and correct me if I'm wrong, but in the hacky romantic comedies this song is clearly trying to emulate, don't things all work out in the end? Well, at least it's marginally better than 'The Only Reason', a song about repairing relationships that only has one line that gets on my nerves: 'Don't talk, let me think it over / How we gonna fix this?' Well, maybe if you let her talk, you might come to an answer! And then there's the big hit single 'She Looks So Perfect', which is effectively bought and paid for by American Apparel and wants to be a mash-up of 'Born To Run', 'Let's Get Married', and 'Finally Famous' and does justice to none of those three songs. And maybe it's just me, but am I the only one who's a little skeeved out by a song aimed at teens and younger pushing obvious sex, tattoos with the partner's name, and marriage that early? And I have to be honest, in comparison to an act like Dan + Shay, these guys don't come across nearly as sincere - mostly because a producer in an effort to make these guys sound harder dropped a thin fuzz over the vocals for no good reason!

Look, I can't say 5 Seconds Of Summer is objectively terrible or worth getting all that agitated about, but even by the standards of shallow pop rock, these guys are maybe a small step above Hot Chelle Rae and that's about it. And the only reason they're getting airplay at all is because there's always a market for this and there hasn't been a lot of pop rock on US radio - but since I'm Canadian and pop rock never went away up here, I have no reason why I would want to listen to these guys when I can just listen to Marianas Trench, Tokyo Police Club, or The Brilliancy. In other words, 5 Seconds of Summer gets a 5/10 and frankly that's being generous. 

And to all of you lining up to sling nonsense into the comments - look, we live in the age of the Internet, and I listened or implied at least ten better acts than these guys. You can find all of these if you choose to look, and I'd like to have more faith in you than the labels pushing this down your throat. Because frankly, you deserve better.

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