Album Review

Review: Fifth Harmony’s Debut EP, ‘Better Together’, Is Here At Last

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When it comes to Fifth Harmony, anything could happen. (Anything could happen. ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN.)

In today’s case, the release of Better Together — the debut EP by the X Factor alumnae — happened.

The girls have come a long way since coming together as a group called LYLAS (and then 1432, and then Fifth Harmony) on The X Factor USA, strutting their stuff in front of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears in giant poofy dresses and blowing the general public away with their impressive takes on tracks like Shontelle‘s “Impossible,” Demi’s “Give Your Heart A Break” and, of course, Ellie Goulding‘s “Anything Could Happen.”

Since then, the girls have spent several months working on material for their debut release, dropping several covers to keep the blogosphere buzzin’ along the way — from Lana Del Rey‘s “American” to Frank Ocean‘s “Thinkin ‘Bout You.” The song selections were unexpectedly mature considering their demographic (granted, there was a fair share of One Direction and Taylor Swift coverage in the mix too), but the girls’ capably melodic voices (and don’t forget those harmonies!) could fend off even the snootiest of critics.

When it came time to finally launch their career, the group opted for “Miss Movin’ On” as their debut single — a yelping, Demi-lite kiss-off anthem locked and loaded with an undeniable earworm of a chorus (“Call me, call me, call me…“) and a “We Will Rock You”-like stomp, grounded with just the right of awkward tweenage lyricism (“Shake it off like an Etch-a-sketch!”) The track didn’t entirely take off, tapping out at bottom half of the Billboard Hot 100, but it did have enough legs to stand as a good start.

“Me & My Girls” came next — a dizzying, off-the-walls free-for-all of Bieber, Demi, One Direction and Britney references (including a mini-trap beat break!) engineered for girly middle school sleepovers and dance parties. That the video premiered on Radio Disney (the word “stupid” censored for sensitive ears under the age of, um, 3?) only served to underscore what was quickly becoming clear: The girls were aiming young. Real young. And rightfully so! Considering their age, they’ve got ample time to corner the teenybopper market.

As a result, the group’s debut effort, Better Together, is a solid set of breezy bubblegum pop for the Tumblr generation, serving up a variety of radio-friendly sounds and bananas o’clock vocals accessible for all ages.

There’s the throwback ’80’s dance-pop revelry of opener “Don’t Wanna Dance Alone,” which plays like the baby sister to Whitney‘s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — and maybe even a little Prince ‘tude. Title track “Better Together,” on the other hand, feels like a smooth continuation of spacey, early ’00’s urban-pop, a la JoJo. “Boy, I miss you / Said I really, really do!” the troupe coos. “We betta, we betta — you know we betta togetha!”

“Who Are You” is the EP’s only real slow moment, allowing the girls to show off their pipes individually (and as a group) above a lilting piano melody and soft strings. It’s by no means an immaculate triumph in break-up balladry, but a pleasant showcase of skill nonetheless — especially with those soft harmonies in the distance. Those immaculate runs at the end? Whew, girls! Church time.

The most immediate track in the collection, apart from “Don’t Wanna Dance Alone,” is the Monsters and The Strangerz-produced “Leave My Heart Out Of This.” (The writer-producer team also wrote Rihanna‘s “No Love Allowed” and Cher Lloyd‘s “Swagger Jagger.”) Wandering innocently into the speakers atop a pleasant guitar strum and a carefree whistle, the track suddenly morphs into a power pop monster, lying somewhere between a One Direction stormer and a Demi Lovato wailing anthem a la “Heart Attack,” building up to one gigantic chorus: “My heart says just forgive you / Oh, but it’s not thinking clearly / I wish that I could leave my heart out of this!” It’s a huge one — if any song’s pegged as the next single from the collection, it should probably be this one.

Better Together is everything that the debut EP by Fifth Harmony needed to be: It’s a diverse, perfectly listenable collection of pop that neither breaks boundaries nor plays it too safe (there aren’t any obvious EDM club thumpers on here, after all), allowing the girls to flaunt their versatility as a girl group and, most of all, their voices.

Consider Better Together their formal introduction to the general public — a solid one, at that. Now, it’s time for Fifth Harmony to forge their own path and develop a winning sound that will put them on top in 2014 with a proper debut LP. It’s been a hot minute since a girl group ruled the radio airwaves in America, and Fifth Harmony deserves to be the group that does it again.

I’m highly optimistic.

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Better Together was released on October 22. (iTunes)