Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Of love and parody

album reviews

Band: 5 Seconds of Summer
Album: 5 Seconds of Summer

After the massive success of pop group One Direction, it is hardly surprising that a steady influx of boy bands is now littering the teen pop scene, as they vie to follow in The X Factor stars’ footsteps. The most recent success story has come in the form of 5 Seconds of Summer, the Australian pop rock group that has just charted at number one in several countries with their self-titled debut album.

The Sydney quartet has gone from performing covers on YouTube to opening for One Direction and finally establishing themselves as a chart-topping act with a fanatical fan following in the span of less than three years. Weary of being called a boy band, despite the fact that they essentially seem to be one anyway, 5 Seconds of Summer emphasize that they write their own songs and play their own instruments. Their output unabashedly targets the tween and teen audience (despite sometimes being a little too suggestive for very young listeners), and sounds like a cross between Busted and McFly. Good Charlotte also seem to be an influence, and it’s obviously no coincidence that Benji and Joel Madden have made an appearance in the credits among the co-writers of album closer ‘Amnesia’.

The boys sing about love and teenage desires on this set of 12 songs that are sufficiently catchy, as evident by the singles ‘She Looks So Perfect’ and especially ‘Don’t Stop’, but their songs mostly seem derivative and unexceptional. No originality has been expended in the making of this record. 5 Seconds of Summer is polished pop rock with the edges smoothed off, and even if it fails to interest anyone outside their target audience, the album is sure to please their young fans who like their punk pop sans the punk.

Highlights: ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘She Looks So Perfect’, ‘Long Way Home’
Rating: 2.5 out of 5


Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Album: Mandatory Fun

The world of pop music would be a lot less fun without the comedic genius of “Weird Al” Yankovic, the parodist whose humorous take on chart-topping tunes and pastiches of famous acts have been amusing us for decades. His chameleon-esque ability to imitate styles and comically interweave popular culture references into his songs is second to none, and his talent is on stunning display on his new album, Mandatory Fun.

The 12 songs on the album are divided into five parodies, five stylistic spoofs of popular acts, a parody of college football fight songs, and a delightful polka medley of recent pop hits titled ‘Now That’s What I Call Polka!’. Album opener ‘Handy’ sees Weird Al sing about his handyman skills to the tune of Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’; ‘Foil’ discusses the many uses of aluminum foil, cutting through the pretense of Lorde’s tired ‘Royals’; Imagine Dragon’s ‘Radioactive’ and Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ become ‘Inactive’ and ‘Tacky’ respectively; and while it may not be easy to pick the highlight of the album, it’s also hard to deny that ‘Word Crimes’ – which offers English grammar lessons set to the tune of Robin Thicke’s much maligned ‘Blurred Lines’ – is probably the most immediately satisfying track from the set. The album also houses pastiches of Foo Fighters, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Pixies, and Cat Stevens, each of which pays homage to the respective performers, all with an absurdist spin.

Yes, some songs are more amusing than others, and yes, some listeners are likely to find the content too silly, but overall Weird Al is in fine form throughout Mandatory Fun. It is a pleasant, enjoyable record that puts his creative energies to good use, and even gives you a chance to learn some grammar in the process!

Highlights: ‘Word Crimes’, ‘First World Problems’, ‘Sports Song’
Rating: 4 out of 5

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 5th August, 2014 *

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