With last December’s buzzy departure of singer Camila Cabello, the X Factor-forged girl group Fifth Harmony lost one of its five spokes, but their latest record doesn’t seem to be very interested in reinventing the wheel. On their self-titled third studio album, you wouldn’t know any such membership mix-up took place based on the safe, consistent, simple sound the four remaining women (Dinah Jane Hansen, Ally Brooke Hernandez, Lauren Jauregui, and Normani Kordei) and their bushel of producers have churned out.
If anything, Fifth Harmony echoes like a B side to last year’s superior 7/27 (which begat the smash single “Work From Home”) but delivers only a faint aftershock of its quake. The album feels cut from the same cloth as its predecessor but doesn’t wear it as well, relying even more heavily on overproduced turn-ups about lovers and clubs, predictably cheeky innuendo, and house breakdowns custom-manufactured for young ears and playlists.
Of the record’s 10 tracks, certain highlights rise to the top: “He Like That” flits along with a strident tropical bounce; “Make You Mad” is a short but catchy study in flirtation, supplying the record’s bubbliest hook; lead single “Down” (featuring Gucci Mane) offers the strongest example of the group’s now-signature style of pop chorus; and the torch song “Don’t Say You Love Me” shows off the women’s vocal excellence when allowed some breathing room. The rest of the record unfortunately underwhelms, whether by squandered bass drops or half-baked ideas (“Sauced Up” is as watered down as it gets). No song seems to surge with the same electricity that earned such a booming reception for singles past.
Arriving on the heels of a listless summer of music, Fifth Harmony’s pop-by-committee could have fared fabulously well had it risen in the heat earlier this year; instead it’s a harmless record that doesn’t quite demand a second listen, which in itself demands a second glance as to why safety was chosen over vulnerability and innovation for this record. Perhaps the great misfire is that this could (and should) have been a better curated and thereby more confident EP marking the renewed commitment of the shining quartet, who continue to display tremendous vocal growth each year and deserve a better showcase for their talents. If only they had the material to go fourth and do it. B–