5 Seconds of Summer
Sounds Good Feels Good
Proverbial wisdom suggests that a tiger can't change its stripes. And even the Bible takes the time to tell us that a leopard can't change its spots. So sitting down to review the second album from Australian pop-rockers 5 Seconds of Summer, I had quite low expectations. After all, I ended my review of the group's 2014 debut by saying the quartet was "pushing a sexed-up worldview that's anything but truly romantic." I resigned myself to more of the same on Sounds Good Feels Good. Hey, even the title implies yet another dose of dubious lyrical doctrine.
And … there is that here. But there's also a palpable sense that these four dudes from Down Under are trying to make sense of their—and their generation's—deep brokenness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The most surprising song on Sounds Good Feels Good is the plaintive ballad (and deluxe-edition bonus track) "Broken Home." It narrates a young girl's pain watching her parents inch toward divorce amid a hailstorm of conflict. "They would yell, they would scream, they were fighting it out," the song begins. "She would hope, she would pray, she was waiting it out/Holding onto a dream/While she watches these walls fall down." The heartrending chorus finds the deeply damaged girl asking, "Hey, Mum, hey, Dad/When did this end?/When did you lose your happiness?/I'm here alone inside this broken home." She concludes dejectedly, "I'm stuck in between a nightmare and lost dreams."
After leering at lusty women in the first two verses, "She's Kinda Hot" takes an unexpected turn as it focuses on struggling friends ("We are the kings and queens of the new broken scene") pursuing their dreams anyway ("When you've got bigger plans that no one understands/You've got a shot, though"). Likewise, "Hey Everybody" encourages cash-strapped young adults (one woman has maxed out her credit cards, while others can't pay the rent or bus fare) not to quit ("It's not the end of the world/Yeah, we've all been there before/ … We can't afford to give up/We gotta make our own luck").
On "Jet Black Heart," a man longs for a second chance with his ex. It's not a positive song, per se, but his self-assessment is honest ("Everybody's got their demons/ … I'm broken") even as he asks her to accept him as he is ("Now that you know it/Can you see inside?"). "Catch Fire" is thematically identical; it's yet another song majoring in confessions of woundedness ("I'm a broken stereo") fused to vows to do better ("This is not who I'm supposed to be/ … I will fight to fix up and get things right/I can't change the world, but maybe I'll change your mind"). Still more longing for one last shot fills "Outer Space/Carry On" ("If you can love me again/I could let go of everything/ … The darkest night never felt so bright with you by my side"). The second half of the two-part song looks forward to better days with, "You know it's gonna get better/ … Say a prayer for the broken bones/'Cause, who cares? We're all going home."
Bonus track "Safety Pin" focuses on two "Long-lost children/ … Broken boy meets broken girl" who try to help each other despite their jagged edges ("We'll safety pin the pieces of our broken hearts back together/Patching up all the holes until we both feel much better/ … We can save us from falling"). "Castaway" ponders how a romance drifted into destruction. "Fly Away" determines to look forward optimistically, relinquishing painful memories. "Airplanes" trades passivity for determination.
"She's Kinda Hot" finds a guy coarsely bragging about staying with his girlfriend only because of her looks ("My girlfriend's b--chin' 'cause I always sleep in/ … She's kinda hot, though"). The narrator's "shrink" is later described the same way. "Safety Pin" says, "Once I got a little taste/Now I'm addicted to your fix." (It also mentions raising a "middle finger"). Similar lines turn up on "San Francisco" and "Waste the Night," the latter of which relishes the "Taste in your tongue, the smoke in your lungs/ … The salt on your skin is pulling me in."
"Vapor" tells us, "You make it sound so sweet/When you lie to me," and the song's narrator adds suggestively, "I want to feel your love like the weather/All over me, all over me." "Jet Black Heart" references raging hormones ("But these chemicals moving between us/Are the reason to start again"), leading to lyrics that could be heard as acting on that chemical attraction ("Let's forget who we are/And dive into the dark").
"Money" dashes madly around the world, intoxicated ("Take my money, take my keys/ … From the floor to the ceiling, robbing and stealing/ … Late night, passed out in Tokyo, New York, L.A., Chicago").
Over and over and over again we hear the guys in 5 Seconds of Summer use the word broken on their deceptively titled Sounds Good Feels Good. And the brokenness they're talking about goes way past romantic revelries that have foundered.
Oh, there are plenty of those, to be sure. But these four lads from the Land of Plenty really and truly grapple with how emotionally exiled and isolated they feel. They've got songs about runaways and castaways, lost children and children of divorce. All in all, there's a deep sense here that the kids aren't alright, and that a lot of them are limping through lives with crippling, isolating wounds.
Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood, Michael Clifford and Ashton Irwin don't quite know what to do with all that hurt, of course. But to their credit, they don't completely cave in to nihilism, despair or hedonism. Instead, they mostly keep their chins up and encourage others battling personal brokenness to do the same.
The result is a surprisingly earnest and optimistic effort …
… still striped by the likes of "She's Kinda Hot" and "Safety Pin." But this stuff is at least less spotty than the Mrs. Robinson-like fantasies 5 Seconds of Summer was indulging just a year ago.