Favorites: Boss, Everlasting Love, Reflection, We Know
Dislikes: Them Girls Be Like
Overall: Great, catchy mix of then and now sounds, great vocals, could use better writing
When you audition for X-Factor as a solo act, you're not counting on being clustered with 4 other strangers and expected to compete and operate as a group, should your act win. This being a challenging commission, especially if you're an amateur that doesn't know the 1st thing about blending, no viewer would be surprised if your troop didn't last long beyond the show. Quintet Fifth Harmony (consisting of Ally Hernandez, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane Hansen, Lauren Jauregui & Camilla Cabello) exceeded the usual odds, staying together and spawning 3 gold-certified singles and a top 10 EP (i.e. Better Together)--and they didn't even win season 2! Fans have been clamoring for a full-length album and it's come in the form of Reflection. The blink-of-an-eye rate at which they've developed puts their X Factor contemporaries, like One Direction and Little Mix from the U.K. edition, to shame. Being a few years older and putting pen to pad themselves, Little Mix's lyrical offerings on their latest Salute were more cultivated and less playbook, but musically, they too closely mirrored their predecessors (like TLC, the Spice Girls and Destiny's Child) and seemed like imitators versus innovators. Fifth Harmony has carved out a discernable identity and direction, coming at you with such assuredness, you're hesitant to say they're too little to step in big girl heels. Even more telling, they're able to exude this confidence without the habitual pop tactics of sex and shock-value to feign adulthood and establish presence. You'd think that balancing maturity would be difficult for a group with 4 members at high-school senior age and 1 old enough to be graduating from college (Hernandez), but it's mostly not, though "Them Girls Be Like" is gratingly childish and the fashion for the album's artwork dates them. Their sound is 1 of toughness and confrontational sass that never lets up, with rhythms just as aggressive as they are. Against their tenor, even the mid-tempos drill. Smartly, they build a bridge between what came before them and where they stand now, frequently meshing pop and R&B styles from various eras and pulling samples from different decades. Next to Mariah Carey ("Like Mariah;" why don't people sample her stuff more?) and Destiny's Child ("Brave Honest Beautiful;" co-written by Meghan Trainor) are Luniz's hip-hop classic "I Got 5 on It" ("Worth It") Dirty Dancing's "Time of My Life" ("Body Rock") and Debarge's "A Dream," famously used by Tupac and Blackstreet ("We Know").
As each voice is resilient and compliments the others extremely well (you can see why they were put together), the signature of congregate singing and the group's namesake-harmonies-are scarce. With performers like 5H, you look forward to moments and breakdowns with beautiful, strong, knock-down harmonies, but it hardly happens. On a semi-related note, Cabello is 1 of the more popular members and is known for her range and distinctive voice, but her squeaky tone could wear on some ears.
While listening to "Reflection," I kept wanting to stop and turn on Carey and Danity Kane. I wasn't sure if that was just a symptom of triggered memories, or the album falling short of hitting the spot. As the days passed, however, I found myself humming the songs and returning to the album, not for the sake of writing this review, but listening for leisure. With better songwriting, Fifth Harmony could end the girl-groups-who-blaze drought.