Girl groups are slowly becoming a less significant force in the music world. Solo teen pop stars and boy bands have filled the niche that was once home to the likes of the Spice Girls, and barring a few successful efforts in the late 2000s and early 2010s, girl groups were only really appearing in Japan and Korea. It’s thanks to The X Factor that girl groups like Fifth Harmony have a shot again, and three years after coming third in the 2012 American season, they’ve finally released their debut album Reflection.
Reflection is a collection of R&B and Urban songs, in a similar vein to Mariah Carey (whose song Always Be My Baby was heavily sampled in the referential album track Like Mariah) or Ariana Grande. While the girls don’t have the vocal range of their musical influences, the songs are built to showcase the singing voice of each member to the best of its abilities, solo and while harmonising. Add in a collaboration track with current pop powerhouse Meghan Trainor and you’ve got all of the ingredients for a popular album.
For the first few tracks it even manages to sound fresh and instil some hope that it might be a great album. Top Down has a great retro R&B flair with sampled brass instruments and sassy vocal performance, and indicates the album’s overall style. The following four tracks all flow between urban and synth-pop styles, with the pre-released single Sledgehammer standing out the most. It’s after the Dr. Luke-produced dance-pop number This Is How We Roll that the album hits its slump.
Songs start using the same worn out stereotyped Urban sounds, from the piano-heavy R&B of Everlasting Love to the heavy sampling of the song’s namesake in Like Mariah. The album goes from having a sense of variety in its tracks to feeling like a chore to listen to, with only the vocal performances to keep the entire album from sinking. It only manages to truly pick up with the three bonus tracks offered on the Deluxe edition, which bring back the variety found earlier in the album, bringing back the dance-pop style with Body Rock and offering a quirky island-style collaboration with Meghan Trainor on Brave Honest Beautiful. Considering the strong note the album started on, it’s a shame to see it fall like this so quickly.
Thankfully this section is momentarily broken up by the title track Reflection. While it’s still an urban-style song, the retro flair is replaced with a sassy modern backdrop instead, with the vocals carrying their own seductive attitude that works with the stuttering flow of the song. The call-and-response writing style of the song works extremely well with the song’s message about loving yourself — Think I’m in love / Cause you so sexy / Boy I ain’t talking ’bout you / I’m talking to my own reflection — to create a self-empowerment anthem that hits you without any warning.
And it’s songs like Reflection, Sledgehammer and Body Rock that save the album. The five opening tracks and the closing bonus tracks are all top quality, with the middle section dragging the overall quality down save for the standout title track. The performance from the girls never falters, and even the worst parts of the album benefit from this. If they play up these strengths in their future work, rather than falling to genre stereotypes in the future, they may just be able to make a great album.