Fifth Harmony’s ‘7/27’: Album Review

Christina Lee | May 27, 2016 9:40 am
Fifth Harmony begins its new album 7/27 with a mantra of sorts. “Destiny said you got to get up and get it / Get mad independent, don’t you ever forget it,” they sing in introduction “That’s My Girl,” and to great fanfare — brassy horns, heavy bass, an electronic drumroll. By now, it seems like a no-brainer that these five young women (Dinah Jane Hansen, Ally Hernandez, Normani Kordei, Camila Cabello and Lauren Jauregui) would be guided by the mantra “What would Destiny’s Child do?” With their 2015 debut Reflection, 5H emerged from The X Factor with assertive pop-R&B anthems boasting of #nofilter selfies and First Lady-inspired hustle. “Destiny’s Children,” declared a recent cover story.

Now Fifth Harmony sticks out because as a girl group, it currently stands alone. Earlier this week, 7/27 lead single “Work from Home” became the first No. 1 pop hit by a female ensemble since the Pussycat Dolls‘ “Buttons.” How does 5H answer the pressure? Recent interviews, along with “That’s My Girl,” would have you believe that 7/27 (out ) finds the quintet being more assertive than ever. “We finally have a damn voice,” Dinah has said. The thing is, their crowd-pleasing sophomore LP doesn’t do quite enough to make that voice heard.

Similar to how breakout hit “Worth It” seemed to borrow the wonky horns of the moment heard in songs like Jason Derulo‘s smash “Talk Dirty,” many tracks here sound like Fifth Harmony’s take on pop hits dominating the charts right now. One of the main inspirations seems to be Diplo and Skrillex‘s recent work with Justin Bieber, wherein soulful vocals get boosted by sleek EDM sound effects. The other could well be Selena Gomez‘s Revival, a pop album driven by a young woman’s relaxed confidence. Throughout 7/27, Fifth Harmony turns the volume down, and while the group could well be trying to show how it has matured over the past year, this decision can come off like a tactic to seem right on-trend.

To be sure, the end result would sound fine blasting poolside this summer, Lime-A-Rita in hand. But, aside from there being five singers instead of one, this move doesn’t much set 5H apart.

Interestingly, the album focuses more on love and heartbreak than the all-out girl power of Reflection. Upon first listen, these quieter moments (“Write on Me,” “Squeeze,” “Gonna Get Better”), often kickstarted by romantic acoustic guitar, would make Fifth Harmony seem more introspective this time around — and that would fit with the decision to quiet things down. But there’s still a distance; few insights into their individual love lives emerge. “Everything is grey until you draw me / touching on my body like you know me,” 5H sings in “Write On Me,” a lyric that could well serve as a greeting card inscription. More so than being confessional — as the album’s arrangements would have you believe — they’re being a troupe of best friends, assuring us that hey, they’ve all been there, and we’ve all been there.

Does Fifth Harmony seem as C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-T as before? Yes and no, in that “confident but we don’t need to prove it” way. But with the number of no-brainer hits presented on 7/27, this group has certainly bought itself time to save the deeper soul-searching for later on.

Score: 3.5/5

— Christina Lee