Music Reviews

Album Review: Ashton Irwin – Superbloom

Gemma Cockrell

Ashton Irwin has had a phenomenally successful career as the drummer of Australian pop-rock quartet 5 Seconds of Summer, but releasing a solo album was always at the back of his mind. Lockdown resulted in a completely empty schedule, so it felt like the perfect time for this solo album to become a reality, in the form of ‘Superbloom’.

Made in its entirety in his LA home with producer and housemate Matt Pauling, the album explores Irwin’s inner philosophies about life. It draws influence from his broad range of musical interests, including: Foo Fighters, Nick Drake, Helmet, Silverchair, Stone Temple Pilots, My Bloody Valentine, and Curve. Lyrical topics range from childhood and youth, to alcoholism, depression, death, body dysmorphia, and addiction.

The album strikes a balance between despair and hope – it is an immensely personal record, made up of “songs that couldn’t be sung by anyone else” but Irwin himself. He states that he “had to reach a certain level of maturity in order to write” songs about topics that he actually cares about, and that the song writing process was a means of catharsis for him – a “freeing and inspiring” experience.

He expresses the message that it is essential to be kind to yourself, and to not be afraid to reach out for help if you feel like you need it

Despite ‘going solo’, Irwin is still very much a member of 5 Seconds of Summer. He stated in an Instagram post that it brings him joy to be in a band where he is able to “create freely both inside and outside of it.”  ‘Superbloom’ drifts away from 5 Seconds of Summer’s pop sound, leaning more towards the rock genre. Irwin made this stylistic decision because he felt that people really needed “explosive, bombastic” music “with guitar-heavy sonics and lyrics that are just personal and real.” He claims that people are “sick of the perfect pop song”. This resulted in ‘Superbloom’ being a raw, emotional, honest and heartfelt album.

The first taste of the 10-track album was lead-single Skinny Skinny, a very Nick Drake, folk-pop influenced track, and a very intimate listening experience. It is completely different to anything Irwin has ever released before, because drums are an element which are missing from the track – despite them being the instrument which Irwin is renowned for. Fans have witnessed him contributing his drumming skills and vocals to 5 Seconds of Summer’s pop-rock bangers since they rose to fame, but no-one has ever heard Irwin’s voice alone on a stripped-back, acoustic track, with no drums present at all. The track was inspired by a conversation Irwin had with his 15-year-old brother, which encouraged him to explore his own issues with alcoholism and body-image.

The song Greyhound is another very personal highlight of the album. Recorded in one take in Irwin’s living room, the song captures a relationship between his mother and a greyhound trainer. Irwin learnt as a young child that if the greyhound didn’t come first in the race, it would be shot dead. Irwin strikes comparison between this haunting mental image and the birth/work/death cycle – the way in which we overwork ourselves and speak down to ourselves when we don’t meet our own high standards. The song-writing is therefore very unique, depicting a niche topic which is worlds away from the cliché tropes which often occur in song-writing.

The Sweetness explores themes of depression, and the importance of knowing that it is okay to admit that you need help. Irwin struggled with mental health from the age of 15, but he did not reach out for treatment until he was 25. Despite this being a very personal experience to go through, Irwin wanted to use ‘Superbloom’ to share his personal journey of healing. ‘Superbloom’ is the result of him receiving this help – it is an “explosion of confidence and resilience” for people who have struggled with mental health themselves, and who have been on their own personal journeys. He expresses the message that it is essential to be kind to yourself, and to not be afraid to reach out for help if you feel like you need it. He wants to encourage conversations about mental health, and encourage people to help and support each other more.

The album strikes a balance between despair and hope

‘Superbloom’ is a deep, powerful and personal body of work, with an over-arching narrative of  healing, recovery, strength and focus on your true-self. It is raw, poetic and mature; it is a record that Irwin made for himself, rather than for commercial success. His aim is to connect with people – to make people really feel something, to encourage people to explore their emotions and to learn more about themselves. This record helped Irwin with his own personal journey; the cathartic release that writing these tracks provided him with is evident from the way he speaks of his pride in the record. It holds so much meaning to him, which results in an immersive and inspiring listening experience.

Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of  Cathy McCray via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

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