A package tailor-made for the fans; the curious, the uninitiated and the over-14s should avoid it like myxomatosis.
Australia is only as much a physical place as it is a spiritual plane, straddling the surprisingly fine line separating Anglo-Saxon urbanity from a darker, primeval existence, the realm of hostile deserts, cold-eyed hunter-gatherers and murderous fauna. The best Australian art has always demonstrated a heartfelt consciousness of this reality, never shying from the task of taking it to its natural, frequently terrifying conclusions – see Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris, or Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.
The visceral experience offered by 1971’s Wake in Fright, however, stands out in this regard. The film depicts a schoolteacher’s night in an Outback town, Bundanyabba, where he encounters the abjectly seedy locals, indulges a gambling addiction and endures a Camusian descent into beer-drenched delirium. Bundanyabba is Australia at its most blisteringly authentic – bloody, sweltering, lawless, hypermasculine and phantasmal. Whilst monotonous and often downright repulsive, culminating as it does with footage from a real-life kangaroo hunt, the piece makes for essential viewing if one seeks to fully appreciate the atrocity that is Sounds Good Feels Good, the latest release from Sydney-based pop-punk joint 5 Seconds of Summer.
For all their elaborate attempts to escape the sort of provincialism British and Australian bands seem particularly prone to (SGFG’s opening track, ‘Money’, boasts of late nights in “New York, L.A., Chicago”), 5 Seconds of Summer find themselves, like the protagonist of Wake in Fright, drawn inexplicably back to grimy Bundanyabba. The songs here, characterised by the utilisation of ultra-sentimental guitar riffs and reverbing vocals, make a blatant effort to channel the structure and vibe of the (very American) Fall Out Boy and the (probably American) Imagine Dragons, an arrangement that falls apart the minute that Aussie twang gets the better of them (listen out in ‘Permanent Vacation’ for “the gutter” and “the voice of the new generation”).
What separates truly great regional outfits – that would be everything from the Smiths to Midnight Oil to the Arctic Monkeys to the Bad Seeds – from your run-of-the-mill rock vanity project is a willingness, on the international stage as elsewhere, to flaunt one’s local roots. 5 Seconds of Summer have no time for their Sydney, and the result is an album that goes well beyond impersonality – Luke, Calum, Michael and Ashton are a bunch devoid of any discernible character whatsoever. Actually getting through these fourteen tracks proved as trying and disorientating an experience to me as Wake in Fright’s marsupial-clobber – it sounds like a One Direction album produced by Billie Joe Armstrong. There are flurries of experimentation, with acoustic segments, samples and drum solos aplenty, but the overall impression we get is that the boys just gave up in the end – once the beat kicks in, it’s hard to distinguish one excessively perky botch-job from the next.
Perhaps this a boy band we can’t afford to be too harsh on – after all, no amount of disparagement is going to move the tweenaged fan base. Commendably, given 5SOS’ capacity to do little else right, the songs, a succession of barby-rockers (‘Hey Everybody!’, ‘She’s Kinda Hot’) and brazen sheila-pleasers (‘San Francisco’, ‘Waste The Night’), are light on subject matter; that’s no excuse for the vapid, hackneyed lyrics (“Like angels can fly, we’ll never die”), or the soullessness of the music. Frankly, I’d rather take a wise old Aborigine’s blow-dart to the right-buttock than be exposed to SGFG’s echoed vocals again – they feature in every single track, leading me to suspect the producer, whomever they might be, has the emotional intelligence of Mick Dundee. Stay well clear.
Sounds Good Feels Good is out now via Capitol.