Originally published on So So Gay on 9 June 2015.
‘Boss! Michelle Obama / Purse so heavy gettin’ Oprah dollars’ – but don’t hold that against Ally, Camila, Normani, Dinah and Lauren, aka Fifth Harmony. Coming to the public’s attention after being put together on The X Factor: USA‘s 2012 series where they came third, five-piece girl group Fifth Harmony have finally brought debut album Reflection to the UK.
The fusion of EDM-flavoured pop with contemporary R&B makes for a sharp and well-crafted sound that you’d expect from a priority SYCO signing. The glorious single ‘Sledgehammer’ is a pop behemoth that justifies the price of admission alone – it’s pure perfection that sounds brilliant no matter how many times you play it. Similarly, the brassy sass of latest single ‘Worth It’ is as infectious as it is understated. While Reflection is certainly a laudable and very confident first album from the girls, it does have a few hiccups along the way.
Lead single ‘BO$$’ is the first such moment; it may have excellent production values and a catchy hook, but it also boasts memorably naff lyrics (see above). For every excellent track like ‘Top Down’, with its Danity Kane ‘Showstopper’ style and nonchalant finger-clicking swagger, there’s ‘Everlasting Love’, which is derivative of every Ariana Grande single going – who in turn is a knockoff of mid-90s Mariah. Speaking of whom, the Tyga-featuring ‘Like Mariah’ rips off MC’s classic ‘Always Be My Baby’, but is catchy because of the Mariah sample and little else. Both these tracks come across as a little lazy, bearing in mind the excellent songs that sit around them. While ‘BO$$’ has slightly naff lyrics, title track ‘Reflection’ takes it a step further with some unappealing arrogance for the conceited Instagram generation: ‘You’d be rich if looking good was your profession / Think I’m in love, ’cause you so sexy / Boy, I ain’t talkin’ about you, I’m talking to my own reflection’. What’s the US version of Broken Britain? Hashtag Awful America?
Nevertheless, the very good definitely outweighs the decidedly average.
After a slightly weak middle, the album picks up again with the buzzing R&B of ‘Suga Mama’, which bounces along like an early Destiny’s Child number and has solid harmonising to match. Similarly, the sparsely produced ‘We Know’ – which samples the DeBarge classic ‘A Dream’ – is a superb showcase for the girls’ vocal prowess, which rightly takes centre stage. An exceptionally mature and classy sounding track to close the standard edition of the album, it’s the perfect brush-off to guys that play around.
The deluxe edition bonus tracks are a bit of a mixed bag. ‘Going Nowhere’ is a stuttering and stomping earworm, while ‘Body Rock’ has a strange melodic similarity to ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ in its pre-chorus, which is distracting but manages to work overall as a decent slab of electro pop with a teen-pop vibe. The Meghan Trainor featuring, and ‘Bootylicious’-sampling ‘Brave Honest Beautiful’ is the weakest of the three tracks, which falls a little flat as an empowerment anthem, hampered by saccharine lyrics that veer back into naff, ‘BO$$’-style territory.
Undeniably a great record, the frustrating thing about Reflection is that during its good moments the girls are truly excellent, and an exciting pop prospect; it’s the uninspired (let’s politely call them) hommages and occasionally poor lyrical flourishes that interrupt their otherwise A-grade flow. When their sophomore effort comes around, the aforementioned weaker moments will have been undoubtedly ironed out, as these five young ladies clearly have a lot to offer the pop world.
Standout Tracks: ‘Top Down’ / ‘Sledgehammer’ / ‘Worth It’ / ‘Suga Mama’ / ‘We Know’