‘CALM’ solidifies 5 Seconds of Summer’s departure from boy band era

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After performing for almost a decade, Australian pop band 5 Seconds of Summer, often referred to as 5SOS, has demonstrated unprecedented growth, artistry and honesty on its newest album, CALM. The band’s senior record released on March 27, its first after signing with Interscope Records last year.

CALM, which is an acronym of the band members’ first names, shows the group continuing to settle into its newfound artistic maturity since 2018’s Youngblood. Similar to the band’s previous record, CALM’s rich, rounded tracks lean heavily into the music’s high production quality and darkwave influence. While early 5SOS music relied on standout guitars and little to no electronic incorporation, the band’s new sound caters to fans who have also outgrown their emo boy band phases.

5 Seconds of Summer began in 2011 as a pop-punk boy band, covering songs by All Time Low and Blink-182, in addition to originals, before going on tour with One Direction for three years. Since the Beatles was first described as a boy band in the 1960s, the defining characteristics warranting such a title have been heavily debated by music nerds and fangirls across the board.

But 2018 marked a year of transformation for 5SOS. Members Luke Hemmings, Ashton Irwin, Calum Hood and Michael Clifford traded in their teenage flannel shirts and Vans for dapper suits and leather jackets, reflective of both their personal and artistic metamorphoses. 

The new album starts in a chorus of reverbed harmonies with “Red Desert.” One of the first things listeners may notice about this song is its stark similarity to the production style of Queen, showcasing multilayered background vocals and powerful arena rock drumming. With CALM being the band’s first original release following a championed cover of “Killer Queen” in 2018, it seems as though the boys were truly inspired by the rock legend’s use of echoed layering and bold instrumentals for nearly every song since.

CALM is peppered with controlled falsettos, astral instrumental melodies, driving bass notes and the most mature songwriting the band has seen to date. The album takes on a cohesive series of themes, posing questions about how to handle a breaking relationship or reconnect with yourself — it’s both a hopeful, ponderous pre-breakup story and an ode to one’s past. 

“No Shame,” 5SOS’s first single of 2020, is one of the most honest songs on the record. The lyrics admit that although online celebrity can be a toxic, quicksand pit of reactions and attention-seeking, everyone is guilty for participating. No one is taking names, but Hemmings is pleasantly guilty for his matrix of intoxicating, buoyant vocal delivery as he sings, “Got no shame/ I love the way you’re screaming my name.”

The newly experimental vocal range continues on “Easier,” written alongside producing mastermind Ryan Tedder. This track, along with “Teeth,” explores the harder modern rock influences that 5SOS pulled from for this record. The ending guitar riffs on “Teeth” were executed by none other than Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, using commanding notes in place of higher-register drums.

But the album isn’t all intensity, balancing its heavier content with the more lighthearted songs “Wildflower” and “Old Me.” A laid-back anthem for 5SOS’s new era, “Old Me” recognizes and accepts the mistakes made in younger years. Considering that the members were just teenagers when their global popularity skyrocketed, this song is written as a thank-you letter to their pregrowth selves.

And even though the band’s tone did a 180 in 2018, “Best Years” harks back to the style of 5SOS’s older ballads like “Amnesia,” “Close As Strangers” and “Invisible.” This isn’t necessarily a strong point. While the track boasts instrumental and lyrical growth similar to the other songs on CALM, it doesn’t reach its vocal potential, instead holding onto a slow choral style that characterizes the 2014 era but manages to fall flat on this record. 

The latter half of the album continues to wax lyrical about unstable romance, even featuring a song co-written by Hemmings and his girlfriend, artist Sierra Deaton. But the album’s most potentially underrated song also happens to be last on the 12-song track list: “High” is a vulnerable glance at post-breakup insecurity, cleverly juxtaposing the lyrics, “I hope you think of me high/ I hope you think of me highly.”  

Inconveniently, “Kill My Time” is one of the most unique songs on CALM and the only one exclusively available on the “PLUS1” version. This track shows heavy influence from ’80s synth-wave, a darker style often emulated by other modern artists like the 1975. But with every homage, every lyrical reference to past works and every instrumental flair, 5 Seconds of Summer has proven that its boy band days are long behind it.

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.