Fifth Harmony’s eponymous third studio effort should have been their crowning moment, a record which cemented the X Factor graduates as the biggest, albeit also perhaps the only notable, girlband of their generation.
The group had impressively distanced themselves from their talent show beginnings to become a bona fide chart act in their own right, with both debut album Reflection and follow-up 7/27 hitting the upper reaches of the Billboard 200. While last year’s “Work from Home” reached No.4 on the US Hot 100, the highest position for an all-female act since their most obvious predecessors, Pussycat Dolls, a decade previously.
But the departure of Camila Cabello a week before last Christmas, the Fifth Harmony member who always looked like she’d rather be pretty much anywhere else, suddenly threw their trajectory off course.
Since then, the group – who have decided against changing their name to Fourth Harmony – have become more renowned for their increasingly bitter war of words with Cabello than their brand of sassy urban pop.
Unfortunately for the newly-depleted quartet, Fifth Harmony seems likely unlikely to change that. Indeed, despite claims that the group have had more creative control than ever before, the majority of its ten tracks resemble either retreads of their former glories or listless attempts at Spotify-friendly R&B which rob them of any identity whatsoever.
Lead single “Down” doesn’t get things off to an encouraging start, its finger-clicking beats, repetitive chorus and phoned-in guest rap (with Gucci Mane substituting Ty Dolla $ign) sticking to almost the exact same template as their biggest hit.
Also half-heartedly flirting with elements of tropical house, trap and R&B, “Sauced Up” and “Make You Mad” both follow a similar formula, as does “Lonely Night,” a track which Lauren Jauregui bizarrely claims is like no other song she’s ever heard before.
Even the typically bombastic Skrillex appears to have lost his mojo judging by his lethargic production on “Angel”; while despite talk of being influenced by mid-90s Mariah, “Deliver” sounds more suited to the diva’s recent uninspired output than her Daydream heyday.
There are a handful of moments where Fifth Harmony do offer something at least a little more intriguing. “He Like That” borrows from an unlikely source, MC Hammer’s attempt to gatecrash the G-funk scene, “Pumps and a Bump,” for a bouncy little number which will no doubt inspire a few G-rated moves.
A slightly more famous bordering-on-novelty hit, Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” is also sampled on the penultimate “Messy,” while the emotive dancehall-tinged “Don’t Say You Love Me” allows the girls to showcase the impressive harmonies that helped them to reach third place on Simon Cowell’s underwhelming post-American Idol venture.
But considering the behind the scenes drama surrounding the record, you’d have expected Fifth Harmony to be a much more interesting and personal listen than the bland cookie-cutter fare they’ve served up. In the end, you’re left thinking that Cabello judged her acrimonious exit with perfect timing.
Stream/Download Fifth Harmony on Amazon.