Likes: Deliver, Bridges
Dislikes: He Like That, Angel
Overall: Generic material that's just "cute for now"
When a music group or band loses a member, it's expected that their next project will noticeably reflect the change; particularly if the absent party was pivotal and/or popular. In the best case scenario, an altered troupe will use the opportunity to constructively rebrand and come out stronger. At worst, things just won't be the same for the fans and some will scatter. For Fifth Harmony, who became a quartet with the contentious exit of favorite Camilla Cabello last year, it's almost like nothing's changed with their new self-titled album. That might come as a relief to some, but it's concerning to me.
What's been a consistent issue for Fifth Harmony is that they don't have a distinct musical quality. Their
sassy debut LP, Reflection, captured their confident energy, and the following 7/27 had lyrical improvements, but both were generic and transitory in totality. Anyone could've done those records. Despite the member's having writing credits on 5/10 songs, a difficult situation to sing about, and a need to prove they can rise from the ashes, Fifth Harmony is more of the same basic jingle jangles. Less than half way through each track, you know the whole story musically and lyrically. There are no surprises or curve balls, no slivers of mystery or intrigue. Though bits are catchy, there's nothing you can't live without or can't get anywhere else in a variety of places. The album is so "another day at the office," a few cuts sound like 7/27 reincarnations (ex. "Don't Say You Love Me" is similar to "Write On Me"). Producers include "Work from Home's" Joshua "Ammo" Coleman, Selena Gomez collaborator duo DreamLab, Skrillex and The Stereotypes. It's no surprise that one of the songs I liked the most, "Deliver," was done by The Stereotypes, as they had a hand in most of Danity Kane's discography (another girl-group I enjoyed). Most of this record's producers show up only once in the liner notes, so it's curious that the ordinariness is so steady throughout. I'll give the team points for putting 5H's vocals front and center, however. The number of beauteous harmonies is still painfully low, but their individual parts are well-spread and are given the clarity to not have to compete against rhythms.
The content is a regression from 7/27's heartfelt upgrades, being bare -wire and simple. "Bridges," which was co-penned by 5H's own Ally Hernandez and Lauren Jauregui, is the lone standout. A socio-political unity ode, it's a direct response to President Donald Trump's divisiveness: "We won't separate, we know love can conquer hate, so we build bridges; bridges, not walls." Another line I love is: "I believe every woman is a fighter, and I believe every man can stand beside her." There was reason to believe this album's material would be laudable and/or noteworthy, beyond the motivation of Cabello's departure. Jauregui is very vociferous about social matters; I anticipated she'd have plenty of credits and there would be more than 1 song like "Bridges." She only contributed to 2 songs (the other being "Sauced Up"); Hernandez had the most with 4 ("Sauced Up," "Make You Mad," "Messy" and "Bridges").
Perhaps everything stayed in place here for fear that breaking away would be too much change for the group's beloved "Harmonizers" (their fan-base's name). Maybe it was their usual culmination of factors: they were slapped together and at a young age, the current industry bar is set low, and their handlers view them as radio robots and not a distinguishable force. That's my theory, anyway. They aren't given material or a branding path that's designed to help them stand the test of time. I'm sure that retaining their name (regardless of being a quartet) and attaching it to this record was intended to make a statement about their resilience and definition. I don't think they want to be limited to or defined by "flash-in the pan" tracks, though.