Fifth Harmony's third full-length album and first since the departure of vocalist Camila Cabello, 2017's Fifth Harmony is a sophisticated, if somewhat undistinguished production that finds the former X-Factor contestants completing the transformation from a youthful pop outfit into a mature, adult contemporary R&B entity. It's a transformation the group already began on 2016's 7/27 and they're aided here by a bevy of producers including Skrillex, Poo Bear, Ammo, DallasK, the Monsters & Strangerz, and others. After the release 7/27, Cabello decided to go solo, leaving vocalists Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Lauren Jauregui, and Dinah Jane to figure out how to move forward. Rather than replace Cabello, they simply decided to be a four-piece. The result is an album that picks up on the slick, electronic vibe of 7/27 with a focus on songs for grown-ups and not the teens they initially appealed to. Certainly, it's a logical course of action -- teenagers grow up right alongside their idols, so it behooves any savvy pop act to try and reach that maturing audience. Here we get a batch of radio-ready cuts that touch upon such notions as female sexual empowerment ("Make You Mad"), cheating ("Lonely Night"), and the complexities of the female id ("Messy"). All are themes the group have explored in the past, usually with an eye-winking dash of Beyonce-style feminist swagger. Here, however, they are more often delivered with a cool detachment that feels less personal than on past albums. Nonetheless, these songs fit nicely next to tracks by such similarly minded acts as Rihanna, Tinashe, and SZA. Unfortunately, whether it's the absence of Cabello (doubtful), or a problem with the handful of writer/producers, overall, the album lacks the cheeky fun of past singles like "Bo$$" and "Work from Home." Nonetheless, Fifth Harmony still deliver a handful of sultry, passion-filled jams like the snappy "Down," featuring rapper Gucci Mane, the party anthem "Sauced Up," and the sensual, '90s-style R&B anthem "Deliver." While Fifth Harmony aren't as cutting edge as some of their contemporaries like Solange or Janelle Monae, or even Beyonce for that matter, they do make a pleasingly reliable, throwback style of R&B, drawing heavily upon the '90s vibe of acts like TLC, Toni Braxton, and En Vogue. One could easily imagine hearing these songs at a store and bopping along as you shop. However, where their '90s idols oozed personality and hooks that defined an era, on their album, Fifth Harmony often just sound fine.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar
Thomas Allen / Harold Brown / Orville Burrell / Morris Dickerson / Rickardo Ducent / Rob Ellmore / Gerry Goldstein / Dinah Jane Hansen / Leah Haywood / Ally Brooke Hernandez / Dan James / Lauren Jauregui / Leroy Jordan / Normani Kordei / Lee Levitin / Charles Miller / Shaun Pizzonia / Howard Scott / Brian Thompson