You know, 5 Seconds of Summer didn’t have to be a terrible band. They play their instruments fairly well…okay, the School of Rock cast have them beat by a mile at half their age, but they’d still make a perfectly respectable semi-unknown bar band, and they might even have been a halfway decent Pop act if they had made better creative decisions. Granted, their choir-boy vocal sound makes their attempts to pretend they’re a legitimate Pop-Punk band pretty futile (the sound of their singing unmistakably marks them as a Boy-Band), but even that didn’t have to be fatal.
Their real problem is that they insist on writing most of their own songs, and they’re spectacularly unqualified to do so, even by the standards of sterile teenybopper music. Look at their most immediate predecessors and influences, One Direction: their first two albums consisted of reprehensible pandering, but at least it was capable pandering. It may have been totally without artistic merit, but it knew what it wanted to do (manipulate teenage girls into giving the band and its management money), and let’s face it, it was enormously successful in that dubious goal.
These guys, by contrast, are complete and utter amateurs, without even the polish that most subpar Teenybopper acts acquire from the soulless professional songwriters from whom they generally get their material. At best, this band’s original material consists of simple-minded cliches, such as the paint-by-numbers love song “Beside You” or the ultra-derivative Carpe Diem anthem “Never Be”. At worst, they consist of some of the stupidest lyrics in all of modern pop music, such as ‘She looks so perfect standing there/in my American Apparel underwear’ (from the lead single “She Looks So Perfect”), or ‘She’s got a naughty tattoo, in a place that I want to get to, but my mom still drives me to school’ (from the pseudo-jailbait freakout “18”).
These guys also seem to have some thoroughly messed up ideas about women. It tells you something when the uncomfortably stalkerish “Don’t Stop” and the whiny “Heartbreak Girl” (which actually uses the term ‘friend zone’) are the tame examples of this. The most extreme example is the album’s low point, “Good Girls”, the chorus of which runs, “Good girls are bad girls who haven’t been caught’, essentially maintaining that all girls are promiscuous and the ones who seem not to be are frauds. Granted, these guys aren’t the only blatant misogynists in Pop music today, but when, say, Chris Brown writes a disgustingly sexist song, he at least seems to understand what he’s done. I honestly think if you told these idiots to their face that “Good Girls” is sexist and offensive, they would be confused, because they really are too stupid to understand the implications of the things they write.
Only on four of the album’s songs are these guys smart enough to call in established songwriting talent to write their material. “Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, “End Up Here” and “Long Way Home” were written primarily by Alex Gaskarth, the frontman of All Time Low, a respected Emo-Pop Band that somehow never took off in the mainstream, and they pretty much sound like All Time Low songs. These songs rock far harder and have vastly sharper lyrics than the rest of the material here, and they are pretty much the only good songs on this album. Indeed, if there’s anything good about this album’s existence, it’s getting the first All Time Low song (even one farmed out to another band) into the Top Forty with “Kiss Me, Kiss Me”.
The fourth song to call in an experienced songwriter from another band, “Amnesia”, was written by brothers Benjamin and Joel Madden, the masterminds behind Emo-Pop band Good Charlotte. It’s worth noting that Good Charlotte were basically the 5 Seconds of Summer of their own era…the shallow boy-band pretending to be a legit Rock act…so it’s at least interesting to see them contributing to their successor’s career. Their contribution here, “Amnesia”, which was the album’s second-biggest hit, sucks about as bad as the rest of the album, but it sucks in the way Good Charlotte sucks rather than in the way 5SoS sucks…that is, instead of being insultingly stupid, it’s whiny and melodramatic and kind of mean-spirited.
Now, for the record, I may not like One Direction’s early albums, but I at least understand why they were successful among their target market. I’m genuinely baffled by the fact that these inept amateurs gained the success they did with this album…not only is it patently bad, but they don’t seem to be the kind of bad that generally succeeds in this field. Even shallow, hormone-addled teenage girls generally require more effective manipulation techniques than this to get them to fawn over a bunch of no-talent prettyboys. Granted, like One Direction, 5SOS got significantly better over time (their second album was a definite improvement, and I don’t really have a problem with their latest album, Youngblood). Still, I honestly don’t get what the initial appeal of this band was even on a wholly cynical level, although one thing I can guarantee is that whatever it was, it had nothing to do with the actual quality of their songwriting. Think of this album as the 50 Shades of Grey to early One Direction’s Twilight…not a well-calculated, if artistically worthless, attempt at pandering, but a hopelessly inept amateur effort that inexplicably got lucky.