The prognosis for girl groups who have haemorrhaged a member is not good. Take the Spice Girls, for instance. After Geri’s departure, the fourpiece released a half-hearted third album that was a tremendous flop in the wake of its world-dominating predecessors. Though probably the least vocally gifted, Geri was the spice in the Spice Girls. Without her, the formula was thrown off kilter and the group disbanded not long afterwards. But it’s not just the Spice Girls. After the death of Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, TLC failed to maintain momentum as a duo. Without Left Eye, the group lost its spark. It’s too early to say whether Camila Cabello was the driving force behind Fifth Harmony, but their new self-titled album offers some clues.
Fifth Harmony is another pop/RnB outing built on summery, tropical and fairly mellow tunes. The only guest spot on the album comes at the beginning, lead single ‘Down’ featuring rapper Gucci Mane. ‘Down’ relies heavily on a restrained, repetitive hook that worked well on previous hit ‘Work From Home’ but there’s no bite here, or anything to sink your teeth into. It feels formulaic to the extreme, a rehashing of an old idea with a generic rap verse slapped on just to make up the seconds. Aside from a fairly catchy refrain, there is really nothing else to the song. And the refrain isn’t even that good.
It’s track number two that really shines, the dance hall flavoured ‘He Like That’. It’s playful and flirtatious, two things that feel crucial to the Fifth Harmony brand, centring on an addictive, reggae-lite chorus. The rest of the album avoids anything even half as fun, instead sticking to monotonous RnB that fails to excite. Both ‘Make You Mad’ and ‘Deliver’ – while not bad songs – lack anything that sets them apart from the rest of the album. Following track ‘Lonely Night’ does something to bring out the group’s snappier side, but even this feels more filler than killer. And that’s the problem with Fifth Harmony – there just aren’t enough bangers.
For a band with the word ‘harmony’ in their name, harmonies are surprisingly thin on the ground here. Most of the time it’s an isolated voice we hear, and given the members’ voices aren’t particularly distinctive, the group at times becomes an anonymous, faceless blur. Rather than putting on a united front in the aftermath of Cabello’s departure, the band feels disjointed and fractured. It poses the question: Would this be a better album with Cabello on board? While this might be an appealing narrative for Cabello fans, the reality is that it likely wouldn’t. Cabello was never a driving creative force behind the band, and were she here, she’d almost certainly be peddling the same limp tunes.
Fifth Harmony are good at delivering sexy, melodic slow jams and there are a few gems hidden here. ‘Messy’ is a seductive slow-burner tucked away near the album’s end while ‘Angel’ is one of the few times the group shows any attitude, the repeated line “Who said I was an angel?” at once confrontational and self-effacing. But while these moodier, chilled out tracks make for easy listening, there’s nonetheless the feeling that something is missing, like a flame has been extinguished, or just made significantly dimmer. The slow tempo and mild RnB often translates as half-arsedness and there’s the distinct feeling that the group wants to rush through one more album before going their separate ways.
Clocking in at just 33 minutes, Fifth Harmony is a short and half-baked listen. While there are many passable songs here, there’s nothing that holds your attention or compels you to hit replay. Were there three killer singles at its front, Fifth Harmony would be an accomplished (or at least finished) album but, as it stands, it makes for an underwhelming experience that is likely to be the group’s last.