Why Don’t We, the five-member boy band from Los Angeles, went completely dark on social media in January 2019. Their fans, in a panic, started a Twitter campaign, with outcries of #WhereIsWDW echoing online. Upon their return, they proclaimed that the month had been spent devoted to the careful construction of a sophomore album, The Good Times and the Bad Ones, to be released the following year. And boy, did that turn out to be an apt name.
Since 2016, Why Don’t We has, in the style of One Direction, won the hearts of teens the world over, nominated for MTV VMAs and Teen Choice Awards, and even winning a few. But they seem to still be working on their identity, caught between wanting more substance, more references and more depth to their songs while also embracing their roots of generic, ambient pop. Ranging in ages from 19 to 21, Zach Herron, Jonah Marais, Corbyn Besson, Jack Avery and Daniel Seavy have 6 EPs and a full-length album under their belt already. But they’ve got a long way to go to cultivate a voice of their own.
Their 10-track album opens with recent singles “Fallin’ (Adrenaline),” “Slow Down” and “Lotus Inn.” It then dips in tone, bringing the audience in with some thoughtful, sad songs that are much more minimalistic than the singles.
A slightly incongruous drum sample from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” leads to the catchy “Fallin’ (Adrenaline).” This isn’t the last sample we’ll see. Ballad “Slow Down” plays with the Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979” but feels more like a bizarre cover than an original song. Even the interlude “Look At Me” in the latter half of the album ends up as an attempt at an edgy, slinky jam by opening with a sample of Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.” While they do a solid job of integrating their songs into the thematic elements brought to the table by the samples, it seems more like they’re siphoning the aura of others rather than creating their own.
Here’s the good news: Even though most of the album is hot off the production line at the teenybopper pop factory, there are glints of originality in songs like “For You,” an almost R&B-inspired modern dance-pop jam reminiscent of Boyz II Men – one of the idols for Why Don’t We.
While the construction of the album is, as one would imagine, glossy to the highest degree, with filters over every instrument and reverb on every guitar, there are times when the music doesn’t seem to fit with the strong, catchy melodies. The album, as a whole, sounds like more of a hodgepodge of EPs than a cohesive work, and while some songs seem well thought-out and delicately orchestrated, others seem like a mix of instruments, sound effects or genre-specific beats used unnecessarily, adding flourish to an album already dripping with production value. If the overarching orchestration was just a little tighter, these songs might be enjoyable for more than just the existing fans.
As with most newer boy bands developing their sound, the vocalists’ voices are for the most part indistinguishable, guided by Auto-Tune and sometimes masked by overpowering multitracking. There are five singers and it’s difficult to tell one from the other. On songs where they harmonize, like “Stay” or “Grey,” listeners will find themselves comparing their tone and pitch to another one of the band’s icons: Justin Bieber.
On songs like “Be Myself,” with soft string accompaniment or acoustic guitar, Why Don’t We are in their wheelhouse, gently adding vocal flourishes to their cadent melodies. But at times, you wonder why there are five carbon copies of the same range and pitch singing one melody, instead of just plucking the biggest heartthrob out of the lineup to be the next Shawn Mendes or Harry Styles.
Why Don’t We didn’t make an album for the music connoisseur. But for the casual bubblegum pop listener, it’ll suffice for a passably amusing album. Though fans will disagree, it’s more reductivism than entertainment. With bops sprinkled throughout, though, it gives a glimmer of hope that in the future, Why Don’t We could hone in their best qualities and throw the derivative filler in the garbage.
Follow writer Sara London at Facebook.com/slondogbusiness.