When I first started listening to 5 Seconds of Summer in 2012, they only had 2 EPs out (Somewhere New and Unplugged), and about 12,000 Twitter followers. I fell in love with their cover of “Jasey Rae” by All Time Low, and fell down the fangirl spiral pretty quickly. The baby-faced 16-18 year-olds were soon launched into stardom when it was announced they would be opening for One Direction on a worldwide tour (something they ended up doing multiple times once they became a part of 1D’s record label).
Looking back, honestly, their music wasn’t that great at the beginning — but I, along with many others, could see the potential in their songwriting skills, and their individual talents. There has been no lack of rough patches for fans over the years, between the mediocrity on the whole of their second LP, Sounds Good Feels Good, sans a few standout songs, the three-years of radio silence following SGFG, and their sophomoric mistakes (check out their 2015 Rolling Stone article, which alone convinced me to no longer stay a fan). Despite these hardships, many fans stayed loyal throughout their blunders and their hiatus. When they announced their return with the 5SOS III tour earlier this year, tickets sold out almost immediately. As a former fan, I found myself missing them and their music, and was hoping for a strong reason to come back and rejoin that base. Youngblood is that reason, and so much more.
The two lead singles from the album, “Want You Back” and the title track, “Youngblood,” signaled a stark shift in their sound. They are not the punk-infused teenage pop stars we once knew — they have grown up, and their sound has grown along with them. The alt-pop-rock foursome are now in their early 20s, and facing a completely different reality than that of their teenage days, now shifting away from the angrier punk sound, towards a tone that is softer, yet still unwavering in its strength. They have seen committed relationships, tough break-ups, hookups, and the rockstar lifestyle over the past 6 years, and managed to condense all of their experiences into a 16-song effort that far surpasses all other albums or EPs they have released.
While it would be easy to talk about every song on Youngblood, there are a few which stood out to me after listening through the album a few times. One of my favorites is “Talk Fast,” which begins with an infectious, 80s-infused guitar, and continues to build over melodic guitar lines. The song, detailing a brief romance, shows development from their young mentality on earlier tracks of making love last forever, or pining after a pretty girl — in their new reality, quick romances are more prominent than happy endings, and they agree to just “take what I can get from you.”
The heavier “More” is the most rock-infused song on the album, yet it beautifully mends the heavier guitar riffs with EDM-like drops in the chorus, flying melodic lines, and emotional group vocals. “Valentine” and deluxe track, “Meet You There,” beckon the style of Twenty One Pilots in their heavy and haunting nature, the chorus of “Meet You There” sounding like it could have come straight off of TOP’s Blurryface.
Another personal favorite is “Ghost of You,” a beautiful ballad that proves that 5SOS have not lost their touch in putting out moving break-up songs. However, this far surpasses their past attempts in songs like “Amnesia.” The emotion in the song is incredibly clear and pointed, ending with a bare boned recognition of loss so strong that it made my stomach drop. As their bassist Calum Hood sings, he was once “too young, too dumb, to know things like love, but I know better now.”
The final track, “Babylon,” deserves much more than being the sixteenth song on the LP, only available on the deluxe edition of the album. Centered around the destructive fallout around a relationship still full of love (get it, Babylon?), the vocals soar above low guitars, bass, and drums. The concept of the song, paired with a chorus complete with an octave drop to further drive home the point of the relationship falling, is incredibly compelling.
Ending with “Babylon” reminds the listener that Youngblood is a breakup album of sorts; many songs deal with the inner turmoil at the end of a relationship, dissatisfaction with a relationship, or the difficulty of finding real and true love in the modern age. But to me, Youngblood is a breakup album in that it very clearly lays out the difference in sound, style, and quality of music between the old 5SOS and the new one. The old 5SOS has crumbled down, and out of the ruins, the quartet managed to rebuild, and stronger than ever before.