top of page

Album Review: When Facing The Things We Turn Away From by Luke Hemmings

Photo: David Bates

It's always thrilling to see what happens when a band's frontman tests the waters as a solo act. Luke Hemmings is no stranger to the public eye after a decade (yes, we are, in fact, all getting older) in 5 Seconds of Summer. Still, listening to When Facing The Things We Turn Away From, it's as though the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist untangled himself and is now finding his footing freely for the first time.

We meet Luke at the Starting Line (I'm not even sorry, you all saw this coming) of a year of enforced stillness, reflecting on how a decade can pass you slowly by while feeling more like the blink of an eye in hindsight. Along the line, you forget pieces of your own life from the sheer volume—this song works out how to fill the blanks.

When filling in the blanks, you sometimes find moments of utter euphoria. Saigon is about one of those moments and how we keep chasing the highs from the past whilst realising the sad truth that, if not careful, those moments pass us by and are out of reach before we appreciate them. Where Saigon is euphoric, Motion is fear. Its upbeat melody carries a restlessness so poignant it demands to be felt. In moments of darkness, when the sense of distrust with the way we perceive the world moving around us and our very own thoughts become too all-consuming to deal with ourselves, we need professional help. In the moments of sundown where you feel like you can't trust yourself, Motion brings immense comfort.

Among the euphoria and fear, regret tends to make itself present, and when it does.. well, all we can do is either heal and move on or remedy what went wrong. Written and performed like a voice message to a person he loves dearly, Place In Me is a sincere attempt at starting over. Pleadingly, he states, don't fade away; you'll always have a place in me, in such a timid way it makes your eyes water.

Baby Blue is my personal favourite of the album and immediately landed on my 2021 top 3. Baby Blue's sonic resemblance to some of my favourite musicians, such as George Harrison, struck me most. The song embodies escapism through hazy, dreamy melodies and bittersweet lyrics. Flawlessly and effortlessly, it jumps headfirst into escapism—the knee-jerk reflex of running away to a safe space. As we get older, what used to be innocent often turn into vices, different ways to escape reality. We tend to forget we're still the same kids we used to be, running from everything. Your choice is, wander in for a moment or stay for a lifetime.

When returning to reality, the inevitable, perpetual feeling of chasing something for so long, only to wind up at the beginning unrecognisable to yourself, will eventually catch up to you. When you live an extreme for so long and abruptly are forced to take a step back, the madness catches up no matter how fast you run from tomorrow. Repeat is a gut-wrenching examination of shifting so far from who you've been that even your face in the mirror won't stay the same, nodding to the lyrics changing my face and calling it fashion from No Shame (5SOS, 2020). It's as we're merely intruding on something tremendously personal as Luke softly utters if life's a game of inches, how'd you get miles away?

As we're shifting away from ourselves, we often slip away from those closest to us, and as a universally loved musician touring for large portions of the year, the gap becomes even harder to close. Mum is a letter to Luke's mum, Liz (can we get a round of applause from the fandom for mama Hemmings, please). In equal parts, intoxicating, cinematic and heartwrenching, it builds tension from the very first note. Even when undoubtedly expressing how much he misses his family, there's that tiny sliver of guilt for wanting a rich life of luxury for himself, which is what keeps him away in the first place. He's desperately calling out for his mum as he's sinking, asking her to jump in his ocean, but even then, there's still the juxtaposition of loving the fear of falling. The wall of soaring guitars, cinematic synths, and soft outro vocal feel nothing short of cathartic.

Slip Away is the feeling right before bed when every bad thing you've done swirls around in your mind, the constant ache of expecting loved ones to be out the door as soon as they see who you actually are. My favourite lyric of the entire album, I was drenched in you before I even knew your name, is from this song. Utterly desperate and so full of devotion, just like the song itself. The desperation seeps into Diamonds, a piece on being young living a whirlwind, unable to handle it in many ways. We all find ways to fill in the blanks of who we are and what happens to us, some better, some worse. In Diamonds, Luke asks how dark is dark, almost as if asking how severely he can damage himself before he's too far gone. In a moment of complete and utter honesty, he states I'm so much older than I ever thought I would be, something I believe most of his listeners relate to. As a person who didn't think they'd live past 15, Diamonds comforted me immensely.

As we grow older, time moves differently (zenosyne). At first, time is felt vicariously, and you live in the moment because there's simply nowhere else to go, but as life begins to move, you learn to move with it. A Beautiful Dream depicts how moments repeat themselves and how life passes by more rapidly. Hidden among the music is a voicemail from Luke's mum, which effortlessly ties it to the penultimate song on the album, Bloodline. The only song to be recorded on just one instrument and one vocal discusses the weight of addiction and wondering if there is a way out. Luke's painful unravelling of the thought that something might be destined to be a certain way through genetics left me breathless with tears in my eyes. Bloodline is a true testament to just how many lifetimes the 25-year-old have lived.

Comedown, the twelfth and final track of the album, is a folksy tune begging to be sung by thousands in unison illuminated by smartphone torches. The song points back to where we began the race metaphor with Starting Line, with lyrics like breaking these same old wishing bones, hoping they'd bring me back to course. A sombre feeling of not being in the place he thought he would be at this point in his life looms over the song, but still, he climbs out like a bursting sunrise from the deepest sleep.

When Facing The Things We Turn Away From might have started purely by accident, but as we see him following his inner-muse and most authentic creative self, I can't help but feel as though nothing is ever truly by chance...

Luke will be going live on Moment House on Saturday, August 14th at 3 pm PT / 11 pm BST in support of the new album. The live stream will consist of a live stripped performance and Q&A from the studio where the record was made. All profits from ticket sales will go to My Friend’s Place, which assists and inspires youth experiencing homelessness to build self-sufficient lives. Get tickets here!

Listen to When Facing the Things We Turn Away From on Spotify and Apple Music, and follow Luke on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Written by Eirunn Oppheim


bottom of page