Album Review: End-of-Summer Soundscapes on Luke Hemmings’ solo debut
On “When Facing the Things We Turn Away From,” the 5SOS lead singer creates the perfect album for your coming-of-age soundtrack.
In the summer of 2013, Luke Hemmings was living the dream. He was the lead singer of the Australian pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer, which was rising in popularity so rapidly that just two years after forming, they were opening for megahit boy band One Direction and headlining their own national tour in Australia.
By 2020, One Direction had met its tragic demise, but 5SOS was still going strong. They released their latest LP, Calm, in March of that year, and were set for a headlining world tour. That is, of course, until tours, concerts, even gatherings of band members, were put on hold.
It’s fitting that 5SOS would begin their rise to worldwide popularity alongside One Direction. The two benefited from similar audiences and faced similar trajectories. But One Direction fit the boy-band mold much better. Listeners knew the individuals’ names and picked favorites. The members were able to capitalize on that when they broke off into solo work, with varying levels of success.
5SOS, on the other hand, was always a Band with a capital B. The casual listener knows the group’s name, not the members’. So you wouldn’t be hard-pressed if you were just finding out who Luke Hemmings is — full disclosure: I learned today — but his solo debut is worthy of remembering his name.
Out today, “When Facing the Things We Turn Away From,” is, in technical terms, a mood. Much like the quarantine albums that have come before it, this is a record born out of necessity. In an interview with Billboard, Hemmings said “I needed to say these things and I needed it to feel like this and be packaged in a way that had this hyper-emotional feeling to it.”
Left alone in quarantine with nothing but memories, “When Facing” is about a man who feels stuck in time, for better or worse. “I wake up every morning with the years ticking by / I’m missing all these memories, maybe they were never mine,” Hemmings says on “Starting Line. On Motion, he sings that “Time slips by until you’re lost in your mind / Who you gonna find?” Like the title suggests, this is an album about a man finally facing inward.
Hemmings and collaborator Sammy Witte, who co-wrote and co-produced most of the record, combine those themes with layered acoustic guitars, pianos, and some larger-than-life orchestral moments to create an album full of soundscapes. One track may move seamlessly from quiet verses to breathtaking, almost overwhelming walls of sound.
Put together, this makes the album feel like a cinematic experience. Any one of these songs could be picked at random for the final montage in a teenage summertime coming-of-age movie. (I mean that wholeheartedly as a compliment. Personally, that’s my favorite genre of music.)
In truth, those cinematic walls of sound sometimes mask the lyrical themes that make the music feel so transitional. There’s a powerful sense of nostalgia that runs through “When Facing” that is both hopeful and tragic at the same time.
It’s that nostalgia that also makes this record so fit for the end of summer. There’s always a sadness in moments of transition, especially coming out of an era so filled with joyous memories. And yet, it’s in the transition that Hemmings finally gets to take stock of all his happiness. On “Baby Blue,” he seems perfectly content with hiding in the reverie. “I’m on my way to wonderland / Take off my suit and wander in for a moment / Or stay for a lifetime,” he says.
He ends the album on the other side of that transition, finally letting the real world back in. “Light up a darkness I was never meant to climb out of / like a bursting sunrise from the deepest sleep,” he screams into the universe on “Comedown.” It’s a song that’s fit for a slow fade-to-black.