Luke Hemmings has been working in the music industry for a decade, but this is his first project as an independent artist, sans 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS). The album, When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, is filled with a mix of experimental and classic rockier sounds. The tracks that are closer to pop-rock and 5SOS’ sound are punctuated by the dramatic ballads that expertly utilize powerful production. It offers Luke the chance to test boundaries and express himself on his own.
This is the second solo album to come from a 5SOS member. Drummer Ashton Irwin released a stunning solo album in 2020.
With the pandemic, Luke was forced to spend time getting reacquainted with his memories and self. He explained that this album is an artistic exploration of his own experiences from the past ten years — love, learning, struggling and growing up in the spotlight. Luke spends much of this album describing the sensation of free-falling. He spends much of the album reveling in self-loathing and laboring over the belief he is fundamentally corrupted and broke, with growth appearing to begin on certain tracks. There is little thematic diversity, but this works to convey the overwhelming and singularly focused emotions Luke experienced while reflecting on his life.
This album is also an intriguing sign regarding the next chapter for 5SOS. The group is the final collective from the era in which they were formed, and they each seem to harbor nothing but love and support for each other. The group has cut ties with their management group and record label, and they’re actively in the studio working on new music.
Ashton and Luke have now released solo projects, both showing off new fields as musicians. Luke and Ashton both publicly confronting intrapersonal struggles also opens them up lyrically and thematically for impending projects. When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, however, could not work as a 5SOS album. It’s deeply personal and a reflection of Luke’s growth as a person.
The closeness the listener feels to Luke is partially reliant on the fact this is exclusively his album. It wouldn’t work to hear the same lyrics come from another member of the band. His choice to step aside and make these songs just about and for himself reinforces their very meaning. As Luke told Rolling Stone, “I love being in this band, and creatively it does fulfill me, but I just needed to make this music to understand myself.”
When Facing The Things We Turn Away From is the stagnancy and self-reflection of pacing through your childhood bedroom, trying to remember the person who once lived there. This album is a sunrise — the light is slowly peeking in during a cold but brighter dawn after a difficult night.
“Starting Line,” the lead-off track on Luke’s debut, is an excellent introduction to Luke’s solo album. It includes a number of the core themes found throughout the project.
“He’s describing a sense of numbness and being forced to seek strong reactions from the extremes of life, only possessing the capability to process bursts of emotion…Apertures in memories paired with the crushing sensation of aging will be oppressive and prevalent when you reach superstardom at age 17… He’s begging his career and the fans to consume him, to drain his career, to rob him of his understanding of truth…When listening to 5SOS’ music, the members’ ages can be more easily forgotten, especially since many fans have grown up with the group members. ‘Starting Line’ is about someone who has run so far they’ve returned to the beginning of the track, watching their peers sprint into the distance together. Luke is grieving the moments lost to his own memory. ” (Read more about “Starting Line” line here.)
“Saigon” has a light and bouncy sound, contrasting the darker and rockier tones of “Starting Line.”
The lyrics still have an edge to them, “Cover to cover, we’re at these lands/Can you remember?/No sense of time…They underwater, air out these minds/Hopin’ for thunder and these desert eyes…Oh, let’s pick apart until there’s nothin’ left of us to carry on.”
In this song, Luke sings about finally breaking down his own insecurities, fears, memories and hardships.
The importance of the location of Saigon is not explicitly known, but Luke’s family did go on a trip to Saigon in early January of 2020. Additionally, Sierra Deaton, Luke’s fiancé, who is of Vietnamese descent, sings background vocals on the track.
The second single from the album “Motion” is another song that is bright in sound but bleak in meaning. Luke is singing about feeling like he’s going through the motions, losing time and his understanding of himself. He’s singing about feeling as though he no longer trusts himself. He is overwhelmed by a desire to be better, but he’s isolated and unsure of how to escape the prison of his own ambition and fame.
Upbeat guitar and light percussion chime as Luke sings, “With every sundown, I feel alone/These hands are strangers, they ain’t my own/My eyes are lying, my eyes are lying to me/With every comedown, nowhere to go/This simple silence is all I know You know I’m trying, you know I’m trying to leave.”
The positives of the pandemics for him are referenced here, specifically the opportunity he was presented to learn who he actually is — however, he’s not sure who he’s going to discover, “All of this running in motion/Time slips by…Who you gonna find? Who you gonna find?”
His hunger for success, as well as his desires for peace, are battling, “I know it’s hiding somewhere within…All my desires are made of my arrogance…Took a walk in the neighborhood…Searching for a miracle/(Will it be enough?).”
Place In Me
“Place In Me” is the third and final single of the project. The somber feeling returns, contrasting some of the surrounding tracks but fitting the earlier emotional songs. The use of violins and tentative acoustics create a gentle and tender sound.
Luke sings in pain, apologizing to someone he has hurt, “…How many chances does it take?/Now with my eyes wide open/I’m nothing but a fake…”
His inability to truly know himself leaves him feeling like a fraud to everyone around him.
Luke even makes what may be a slight reference to the 2019 5SOS song “Teeth,” which talks about calling someone the next morning to make up, “Call me in the morning, yeah I’m sorry that I let you down/I’m so apathetic, it’s pathetic/But I need you now…”
“Baby Blue” uses groovy and echoey guitar, as well as some of the most hopeful lyrics found on the album. This song was co-written by Sierra, whose presence is responsible for the more positive feelings on the track.
“I feel like that song is maybe the nicest I am to myself on the album, and I think that is very much her influence… because her influence in my life has been obviously very positive,” Luke explained in an interview with MTV.
The track is about returning to his home and embracing nostalgia.
It’s evident in his lyrics that Luke longs to escape stressors of the music industry and find comfort in his past, “I wanna stay here forever…I’m on my way to wonderland Take off my suit and wander in/For a moment/Or stay for a lifetime…”
One of the most heart-wrenching songs on the album “Repeat” is written to portray Luke having a conversation with his younger self. He uses nothing but incredibly gentle guitar and vocals to create a sense of intimacy.
Luke is staring in the mirror and trying to understand who he’s seeing, “You run from tomorrow/But the madness catches up…”
Reinforcing the central themes of “Starting Line,” Luke is struggling to reconnect with himself and to process all that he’s become. He sings, sounding apologetic and forewarning. He sounds disgusted by himself and frozen in place like he believes he can only be hollow, overworked and overwhelmed, “This is all we are, we are…”
The shifting of the perspectives helps to show a contrast between his weathered and wisened present, trying to reason with the pain and innocence of his past, “Tell me, what have I become?”
Dark, dramatic and deeply painful, “Mum” is an important divestment from the other songs on When Facing The Things We Turn Away From. The production and instrumental differences complement the intensity of his lyrics on this track, while also helping to break the mold of what is expected from him based on the previous tracks.
“Mum, I’m sorry I stopped calling…Can’t stop dreaming of chandeliers/And your voice is all I hear,” as he sings, his vocals are distanced and echoey like he’s crawling out of the dark. He’s strayed far from home on his quest for fame and fortune.
The instrumentals rise up in a gospel choir style, with dramatic slams and swells, “I’m so heavy Jump into my ocean/Can’t you see me sinking?/Love the fear of falling/Don’t you know I’m too young?/Can’t you hear me calling you?/Nothing hurts me now.”
Much of this album explores the cost of fame.
Luke becomes so focused on his career that he’s singularly motivated, “Keep these dreams like souvenirs/Always ringing in my ears.”
He’s seeking his mum’s forgiveness. Luke shows off his power as a vocalist, his emotions bared through his voice. Again, he sings about concerns with his life choices and his disgust.
Luke is trying to reach a place where he was as a boy, “All the things I did/Just drown it out…Trying to find the way it was.”
Sharply contrasting the dramatics of “Mum,” the following track “Slip Away” is a calm, clear contributor to the sonic cohesion of the album. He’s singing about love and abandonment.
He’s upset with someone leaving him, but it’s because he regrets his choices, “Fading, fading, fading with the breath you take…I can feel you slip away/Like I knew you would/Don’t you leave me in this silence/When you’ve seen all my mistakes/Now I’m looking for escapes/Like I knew I would.”
Quick lyrical work on this song makes for an interesting listen.
Luke sings, “’Cause I was drenched in you before I even knew your name…See your southern heart hiding behind a city face,” likely discussing someone with a nurturing heart tucked away behind cold beauty and glamour. Luke goes on to sing about cheap promises, once again delving into lying, “Yeah, I lied to you like a promisе on New Year’s Day.”
“Diamonds’” begins with a slow instrumental build-up, which quickly ends when Luke’s vocals begin. The lyric “starve myself ’til I’m skin and bones” is similar to Ashton’s “Skinny Skinny,” which confronted his own struggles with body dysmorphia. The lyric, “I’m so much older than I ever thought I would be” weighs heavily. Luke couldn’t imagine himself growing old, but he’s also been aged monumentally by his work in the industry. The gentleness of Luke’s voice on this song directly contrasts the speed of the track.
A shimmering truth from this track is that diamonds and international superstars are both made under pressure.
A Beautiful Dream
This track is close to an interlude with rising instrumentals and a single verse as the focus.
Luke has echoey vocals, surrounded by dreamy and cinematic music that rises into electronic beeping swells and crashing percussion as he cries, “Can’t you just stay for a while?/Can’t you just stay, stay, stay, stay?”
He spends the song singing about being desperate to hold on to his childhood. The once vivid memories are fading, and he feels a sense of longing to return to that period in his youth. It was a time before complications, hardship and fame.
Luke sings, “I see it all here in colour/It’s such a beautiful dream/And I look just like my mother /Exactly where I should be/If it could go on forever I got some living in me.”
The references to his mother do not end with the lyric or “Mum,” as there is someone talking softly in the background as the song fades out. Luke explained that it was a voicemail from his mother. His childhood is now a “beautiful dream,” tainted and washed away by years of celebrity and struggle on the road.
Luke confronts addiction on “Bloodline,” a gentle piano ballad. The use of the term “bloodline” ties back into the reflection on family, which runs through the entire album. He recollects a dark point in his life where he has succumbed to addiction.
As with previous songs on the project, he fears this period of his life is all he is capable of being, “How am I gonna know If/I’m never alone?/When I live in the numb/And all feeling is gone?”
He references portray running again, as he did on “Starting Line,” “Motion” and “Repeat.” He’s confronting the fact he can’t swim out of the gene pool when it comes to addiction and depression, “Oh, there ain’t no warning the first time/Ain’t no one to tell you’Run, boy, run/Like I should’ve done’/And oh, when I can’t fight the bloodline…”
There are no dramatic changes throughout the song, as Luke’s voice remains light and resigned and the instrumentals are consistent. The lack of drama and change mirrors Luke’s feelings of stagnation, entrapment and general malaise.
The concluding track on When Facing The Things We Turn Away From “Comedown” is a peaceful but enduring song about attempting to survive while dealing with the struggle of mental health and celebrity.
“All my life I’ve been beating this horse/Breaking these same old wishing bones/Hoping they’d bring me back to course,” Luke describes trying to find cures for the periods of difficulty. Yet again, he sings about feelings of perpetuity, “All my life I’ve been passing this blame/And once you get on, you won’t ever get off/And won’t be the same…”
In the chorus, he sings about accepting the hardship and emerging from the other side with an altered perspective on life.
“Let it come down on me/Let me see all the things that I was supposed to see/Light up a darkness I was never meant to/Climb out of like a bursting sunrise from the deepest sleep/A change of heart and a silver lining down on Camellia Street…” Luke shared that Sierra was living on Camellia Street when they met. It is also in Sydney, where Luke grew up.
“I’ve been moving away/Falling down these Penrose steps/They’re always digging at my heels,” Luke sings.
Penrose steps present the phenomenon of a staircase that goes both up and down in a continuous and unscalable loop. It could be climbed or descended for all eternity, and a person would get no further than when they began.
“To pull me back into the dark room/Through the doorway/Seeing those colors creeping in/They give me something I can feel/As the seconds start to take bloom,” Luke sings about choosing to see the brightness amidst the dark is reminiscent of the 5SOS song “Wildflower,” which includes floral illusions.
The instrumentals are dramatic but more subdued, opting for a more acoustic sound. There is a rising and falling action that occurs behind Luke’s vocals. It sounds similar to works of Harry Styles’ Fine Line album, which makes sense considering the writing and producing work from Sammy Witte. Witte worked on the entire album, but his style is particularly distinct on this concluding track. The music matches the lyrics and the overall theme well, as he is coming to a point of acceptance and healing.
“Tell me you need me,” Luke begs. There are no more epic highs or lows, as described on the rest of the album. Luke has been seeking the person, the place, the job that will fill the void left by dedicating his youth to chasing being a rockstar.
At the conclusion of When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, Luke is allowing reality to set in and ready to begin a new chapter of his life.
You can listen to When Facing The Things We Turn Away From everywhere now.