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Review: 5 Seconds of Summer Rewrite Pop-Punk Into Boy-Band History on ‘Sounds Good Feels Good’

6
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Label: Capitol

The argument that 5 Seconds of Summer have against being called a boy band — which, despite being an exceedingly proud legacy, is historically a term no successful group of young male musicians have ever wanted ascribed to them — is, of course, that they’re an actual boy band, playing their own instruments and (mostly) writing their own songs. This fact doesn’t necessarily make a ton of difference to the group’s nomenclature, since the definition of “boy band” is a slippery one that has also been at times used to describe plenty of groups (Hanson, the Jonas Brothers, even the Beatles sometimes) who fit a similar profile. But 5SOS’ brand of guitar-heavy effervescence also connects the quartet to the musical lineage of post-Green Day pop-punk.

The evidence is written large on the band’s second album, Sounds Good Feels Good, which heavily bears the fingerprints of two former keepers of the TRL-punk flame: Benji and Joel Madden, the co-creative forces behind turn-of-the-century alt-rock superpowers Good Charlotte. The Brothers Madden co-wrote the first four tracks on Sounds Good along with the rest of 5SOS, and as a result, the tracks heavily evoke that early- to mid-’00s period of mall-punk domination: catchy, puerile, massive, and thoroughly resistant to being taken too seriously. Hooks abound from every corner, occasionally swiped from pop’s past — referencing “Rhymin’ & Stealin'” on the chorus to “Money,” plunking down hard cash to use the “Hungry Like the Wolf” vocal melody on “Hey Everybody” — while the band leans into a persona of vague truancy, letting lust and laziness overrule good sense on “She’s Kinda Hot” and threatening an unspecific generational takeover on “Permanent Vacation.”

Its infectiousness is undeniable, and it reminds you how much we took the Maddens and their ilk for granted back in their day. Good Charlotte were critically reviled for being a lousy punk band, but they were a pretty great pop band, predicting the in-your-face maximalism of 2010s Top 40 with emotionally brickwalled jams featuring huge refrains that made dealing with the petty issues of suburban youth feel as anthemic as possible. (Hell, two of their biggest smashes even had “Anthem” in the title.) It’s a tougher sell for Good Charlotte in their late 30s, but 5SOS are highly logical acolytes, their own breakthrough smash “She Looks So Perfect” likely standing as the most fun pop-punk shoutalong of the decade, one sweeter than any of the Madden Bros’ trademark numbers, but powered by the same love for big guitars and bigger choruses.

Sounds Good doesn’t have anything quite as good as “Perfect” on here — the lyrical details generally aren’t as sharp as “Your lipstick stain is a work of art,” and there’s nothing quite as unexpectedly heartbursting as the “Would you wanna run away tooooo…?” falsetto — and after the Madden songs run out, the spark gradually dims over the course of 14 tracks (and a patience-trying 17 on the deluxe edition). But the album mostly shies away from the string-soaked treacle of the debut’s “Amnesia” — technically the self-titled’s biggest hit — and remains at least half-engaging for the majority of its run time. Songs like “Jet Black Heart” and “Waste the Night” manage to successfully filter the bleeding-heart balladry of “Amnesia” through the widescreen delivery of “Perfect,” if not improve on it. 5SOS finds a balance in their sound here that feels right for them, and ultimately the accurately titled Sounds Good Feels Good suggests there isn’t actually all that big of a gap between the boy band and pop-punk milieus, and probably never was.