Want You Back (C Hood/A Whiteacre/J Kasher Hindin/A Irwin/L Hemmings/S Mac/A Goldstein) and Youngblood (C Hood/ L Watt/ L Hemmings/ A Irwin/ L Bell/ A Tamposi) – 5 Seconds of Summer 2018
The band’s third album was much-anticipated, after 2015’s Sounds Good Feels Good, there were some concerns about the longevity of the band and their ability to break out of the overt punky poppiness of their boyband image, and broaden their fanbase to embrace more diverse musical directions. Their stagecraft would also need to improve if they were to continue to play sold-out arenas. There was a genuine absence of spectacular effects and star power at their live shows, a few foot-on-the-speaker guitar solos, Clifford projecting an angsty skater-boy image, Ashton all punky and potty-mouthed, Luke impersonating Michael Hutchence’s sultry alpha male looks, and Calum striking rock god poses with a low-slung guitar, were not going to cut it in a highly competitive international music scene in the foreseeable future. The album Youngblood was released in June 2018, three years after their last album, which they promoted via their Meet You There World Tour, the album release was preceded by the singles Want You Back, then Youngblood, and after the album’s release, Valentine and Lie To Me (ft Julia Michaels) were released. An army of songwriters, producers, and engineers descended on the album, and it was difficult to discern just how much the band contributed to their original compositions, seven people got writing credits for Want You Back, and six for Youngblood.There were 13 album tracks and 8 bonus tracks, but surprisingly no production credits for any band members, despite the fact that this was their third album, and they had been collaborating closely with producer Andrew Goldstein, of whom Ashton Irwin remarked “we’ve got Andrew Goldstein who we literally see every week…we party together, we confess our sorrows and happiness…we speak to this man everyday..” However the concept of sharing production skills between them and empowering the band to better understand and utilize technology and recording techniques as an adjunct to their songwriting, had unfortunately not been a priority of the collaborative process to this time.
The first single released was Want You Back and it flagged the new direction the band were heading away from their former rackety pop-punk style, to a more mature, sophisticated, polished pop sound which reflected on the yearning and lost love that follows a breakup. The subtle use of piano, drums and guitar intros the song and underscores Luke Hemmings lead vocals, it was a slick radio-friendly synth-inflected song with a catchy rhythmic edge and attractive cyclical hook, that was #1 in NZ and top ten in two other countries, but only charted #32 in Aust, #61 US, #22 UK for total sales of 600,000.
The official music video was released in March 2018, and featured band members performing in a colorful one-room set, where the rules of gravity don’t apply, a la the famous scene in the movie Royal Wedding, where Fred Astaire appears to dance on the floor, walls and ceiling of a room. The furniture can be seen fixed to the walls and ceiling as the band members remain on the ground while singing and playing their instruments, in some shots, they too appear to be walking and sitting on the walls and ceiling.While Want You Back was not the comeback hit that the band had hoped for, it did signal a sonic change for the band, and the release of the single Youngblood, would rapidly confirm the fans positive reaction as it crashed into the charts and became a global hit. The song begins as a slow, simmering, bass-heavy, reflection of the push and pull of a relationship, before exploding into a synthpop banger on the passionately howled chorus. As the song inexorably builds, front man Luke Hemmings angrily emotes “So who you been calling, baby/ Nobody could take my place/ When you’re looking at those strangers, hope to God you see my face.” Of the new direction charted by Youngblood towards a darker, moodier, style of electropop, Luke Hemmings commented “We had to move forward and test our songwriting and progress. It was the greatest thing we could do – we were hungry for something new and exciting. It felt like starting the band again.”There were two promo videos made, one features the band performing the song intercut with back stage scenes, while the second was made in Japan, and band members do not appear, it is a kind of “Grease meets Yakuza” tale with a whimsical premise, and the appearance of Japan’s two leading rockabilly stars, Johnny Pandora (aka Daigo Yamashita) and his Samurai Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and the lovely Misakai Aono (see all above). In the opening scene an elderly Japanese couple enter into a pact to take a pill that will return them to their youth which they can experience for only 24 hours, after which they will die, the old couple are transformed into young Johnny and Misakai, who relive their rockabilly fantasies, for one last spin of life’s wheel of fortune.
Clearly adolescent pop punk was not going to sustain the band through its full career, unless they planned to have a short one, as fans grow up and move on, and Youngblood was an unqualified commercial success. It was #1 in Australia and held down the top spot for eight consecutive weeks, sales of 700,000 made it ARIA’s fourth biggest-selling Australian record of the last decade, just behind Somebody That I Used To Know (Gotye/Kimbra), Riptide (Vance Joy), and Battle Scars (Guy Sebastian). It was #1 in NZ for four weeks, climbed to #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 in the US and stayed there five consecutive weeks, #4 in the UK and occupied the charts there for six months, #3 in Canada, top ten in another sixteen countries, for total global sales in excess of 5.0 million. The album was also a hit, becoming the third 5SOS studio album to hit #1 in the US, it was also a #1 hit locally, #2 in NZ and #3 in the UK, and to date it has over 200 million streams globally.With Youngblood the album 5SOS have made a serious attempt to shed their boyband image and the female fan-frenzy that goes with it, but had they really moved on stylistically, or had they artfully managed to straddle the centre of the soft rock spectrum, similar to Maroon 5 and One Republic, a brand of music much-favored by FM radio? Michael Clifford has said of the album in a Billboard review “in order for us to feel fulfilled as artists, we had to push ourselves to make something new”, but it remains to be seen if all they have done is to re-position themselves in the absolute middle of the road of inoffensive soft rock.