Review Summary: These five girls aren't so innocent and girly anymore.
A lot can happen in four years, and you certainly can say that for mega girl-group Fifth Harmony. It took them four years to emerge from the ashes of the now defunct X-Factor USA to now standing atop the music industry as arguably the biggest group, boy or girl, in the post-1D music world. With their girl-power debut in Reflection, custom-fitted with inspirational, strengthening pop anthems like "Worth It" and "Bo$$", it helped create and build the foundation for their mainstream success, seemingly reviving the girl-group concept that had been depressingly dead for years. With their immense success building up and another blockbuster tour coming up this summer, members Lauren Jauregui, Camila Cabello, Ally Brooke Hernandez, Normani Kordei Hamilton, and Dinah Jane Hansen felt the need to recognize the change as they stand now amongst the musical elite of the industry. Henceforth 7/27 was christened, a tribute to their inception on July 27th, 2012, a celebration toast to the gaining commercial success they have acquired in spades. This pop, dance confection is something that helps turn the page for this group, as they aren't the five innocent girls anymore we came to know on live television four years ago; they are now five beautiful grown women that have taken the world by storm.
What Reflection had lacked majorly in the past was the major production issues that were evident all throughout, with the obvious vocalizing pitched either way too high to the obvious assumption of Auto-Tune, or set so slow that their angelic voices couldn't even be audible enough to hear amongst the peachy composition. In 7/27, that scary inconsistency doesn't even exist. In the summery "The Life", their mature, ambitious vocals string up with maturity and gratitude amongst Eurodance-inspired, beachhead synths that zoom across the bustling bass whilst they're singing of how far they've come. Lyrics like "we the best in the biz/breakin' off betting chips" signify their progression as they recognize their status in music as well as the next phase in their career that they're embarking on. Every member continues to give their own distinctive flavor into the tangy cocktail as they did before; with Camila's cuteness resonant in the sugary hooks, Lauren's iciness, Dinah's majestical falsetto, Ally's maturity, and Normani's sensuality giving off a different, refreshing flavor into every song put out. They're incredible when they deliver their respective solos, but when they unite together for a hook or, in some instances, whole entire verses, it is special because of their natural, dynamic chemistry and bond within all five members. That chemistry is the epitome of what makes Fifth Harmony such a strong group, musically and vocally, because of how powerful they can really become and it shows in spades.
While Reflection was flooded with kaleidoscopic, urban R&B, the same cannot be said with 7/27. This is a bouncy, vibrant pop album that is streamed across with nostalgic, '90s dance tracks that are meant to give you a good time whilst revealing their personal vulnerability and the mature transition they've set forth. The bouncy, sassy "Not That Kinda Girl" epitomizes that, clarified with funky, fun synths strung together with clinking, rocking bass that represents the badass premise existent in this return ode to girl-empowerment as they did before in Reflection, and to invoke resilience within one another. In the ultraviolet, confident "Dope", their heavenly harmonies cover up the summery, somber synths that scatter across the sky, sending cold chills down spines, whilst channeling in their inner Take That, invoking vibes from their respective alternative "Higher Than Higher", as they talk about how "pretty f****** dope" her lover is and how many ways she wants to love him. Their quiet, majestic hook is a sight to behold, shimmering off playful lines like when Lauren bursts out "I don't know what else to say but you're pretty f****** dope/just so you know" with contradicting emotion, culminating into spacial harmonies that surround and abide with the pulsating synths fixated all around. While not as bustling and explosive as the rest of the album, this is the ultimate star in the entire confection by far, showcasing their silky vocals in its most raw, vulnerable form, especially in its beautiful, starry hook and it shows with emotive conviction and assurance.
The last flaw that riddled Reflection was their featured collaborations, which was a difficult obstacle to overcome with artists like Meghan Trainor or Tyga diluting an otherwise damn good song in the process. While the girls have certainly stepped it up a notch with the features, they also made sure their expression was evident too on 7/27 and that makes for nothing disastrous at all, but a complete turnaround. In their biggest hit to date, the sparkling, sexy "Work From Home", R&B crooner Ty Dolla $ign harmonizes perfectly with the girls amongst brimming, elegant synths that explode and rattle with booming, gritty bass over the demanding of their lover to not go to work but instead, put the "work" at home with her. Camila and Normani lust up the sensuality in this scandalous, romantic track with steamy lines like "I know you're on the night shift/but I can't stand these nights alone" that speak to the ache they have for their lover's touch. Yes, these girls aren't so innocent anymore as they were back in their sappy, teenage days as they divulge into more racy, sensually-pleasing content but it's done at a minimal pace that isn't sudden or unexpected as existent with other pop artists in this phase. Their profound maturity continues to display as they pair up in easily their best collaboration to date, with another vintage Southern crooner in Fetty Wap in the sassy, badass "All In My Head (Flex)", who flexes his muscle with might within the funky, glowing synths crashing with the industrialized percussion which breaks free and explodes at all angles. Whilst the collaborations aren't plastered throughout this sprinkled canvas, it is perfect that way as the girls can easily hold their own throughout the majority of their confectionary treat.
If their debut Better Together served as their poppy, teenage phase in their career, whilst Reflection being the phase of uncertainty of where they want to go, then 7/27 serves as the final transformation in this very moment of their lives. Their biggest and brightest album to date, they've matured in a big way, nothing like the innocent, appropriate girls that they were four years ago, but they're still as humble as the first moment they united together. Finally given the right features and the right resources, Fifth Harmony has shined brighter than ever have had in the career as their explosive, emotional vocals burst through in a big way through vibrating, sunlit compositions that are prominent throughout and don't let up in its intensity and flair, showcasing their potential being infinite when things are done right behind the scenes. The sun-bathed entrance for the summer to come, this is easily the best pop album of 2016, a damning and relentless statement that the revived girl-group concept still can pack a real punch on the charts and in the hearts of millions everywhere. These girls have finally found their groove, and the world has finally given them the recognition they truly deserve for it.