I’ve enjoyed One Direction since “What Makes You Beautiful,” but only because I understood one hundred percent what they are — a boy band.
The guys were literally thrown together by Simon Cowell and made into superstars. I understand the “1D can do no wrong” mentality their fans have towards their manufactured music because I lived it with Backstreet Boys and Aaron Carter (yeah, I thought “How I Beat Shaq” deserved a Grammy). While I generally listen to more “indie” music, I’ve always appreciated One Direction for their contributions to my “Getting Ready” playlist, or my drunken loud sing-a-longs. All that being said, the guys surprised me with their latest album “Midnight Memories.”
While the band’s past two albums have been more on the pure pop side, “Midnight Memories” has a very obvious rock (mostly 80s) edge to it. “Best Song Ever,” which most obviously bridges the gap between “Take Me Home” and the latest LP, is the pure pop song we’d expect from the quintet. But don’t think people didn’t notice that nod to The Who’s “Baba O’riley” in the opening. The album’s title track “Midnight Memories” seems very influenced by Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” From the deluxe version of the album, “Does He Know?” is clearly an ode to Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” “Little Black Dress” also addresses 80s rock, with a messy and sexy song that sings, “I wanna see the way you move for me baby,” which will surely have 90,000 girls screaming every night on their just announced 2014 “Where We Are” stadium tour.
The band began when the boys were just 16, 17, 18, so now, three years later, it would be pretty sad if their albums didn’t continue to show some growth. Since the guys are still young, (Harry, the youngest at 19) the songs have become very sexually charged, but with some amount of subtlety in their “rock ‘n roll” lyrics. After all, One Direction still has young fans, ones which they don’t want to quickly lose like Miley Cyrus did. The chorus to “Midnight Memories,” sings, “Midnight memories oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.. Baby you and me, stumbling in the street singing, singing, singing, singing. Midnight memories, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Anywhere we go never say no. Just do it, do it, do it.” The “Little White Lies” chorus says, “You say you’re a good girl, but I know you would girl.” However, you’re not fooling anyone over 14 with those lyrics.
While the 80s rock bit might be fun for the parents dragged to the show to listen to, the songs sometimes feel forced. Instead of being rock, it sounds more like “Hey, I’m a rock (pop) star!” This is fine though, because it’s what’s to be expected from a boy band with an “edgier” album. The songs that sounded more genuine were the folky, Mumford and Sons paddle-drum-inspired tracks. The band’s second single, “Story of my Life” is a perfect example. All five of the boys helped co-write the song, which is by far one of the best songs on the album. With the acoustic aspect, the strong writing, and super developed vocals from all five of the boys, this feels like the most natural next step for the group. Following in a similar suit is the Lumineers-esque “Happily” co-written by Harry Styles. The song is very reminiscent of and just as catchy as — if not more so — than “Ho Hey.” “Through the Dark” and “Something Great” also fit in with these songs. If I were to pick the direction (ha) their next album would go, it would be in the style of these four, which by the way, all feature at least one of the members as a co-writer (as do all but three songs on the Deluxe edition).
Other songs on the album are everything you want to have in a One Direction song: a perfect balance of all five guys singing, super catchy choruses, fun up-tempo dance songs, and cute ballads that will make everyone swoon. “Diana” is very infectious, following suite with the more 80s rock influenced. “Don’t Forget Where You Belong,” written by Niall Horan and McFly, is very anthemic, clearly written with a stadium tour in mind. “Why Don’t We Go There” is one of the more “pop” songs on the album, and I have to give credit to Niall who sounds great at the end of the song (really through the entire album, his voice has matured the most). “You and I” and “Half a Heart” will surely bring some tears and aw-ing from the girls, as well as raised cell phones and glow sticks (do they still sell those?). Although, I have to remark on the awkward line in “Half a Heart”: “I’m walking around with just one shoe.” That’s not endearing, go find your other shoe.
While the band had some solid songs that begin to show signs of artistry in some of the members, others are completely unmemorable. Songs like “Strong,” “Better Than Words,” and “Right Now” were among my least favorite, mostly because they felt unnecessary. The songs added nothing to album, and honestly, it took me a few listens to even remember them. “Alive” is another one, but due to the poor songwriting. The beat and melody are catchy, but the song is saying “Yes, go sleep with every girl you see. It’s okay, ‘if it makes you feel alive'” No thanks. These songs, mixed with the more “forced” sounds, and the “almost-there” songs, show how rushed this album was. Three albums in three years? If the lads had taken their time on this album, perhaps had the opportunity to write more songs without co-writers, the album would have felt more like an album, and less like a cluster of singles. Although rumors of a 2014 album have already started, I hope they take their time on the next one.
But hey, most of these songs are catchy beyond belief, and I may or may not be buying tickets to their 2014 stadium tour…so, I think they’re doing something right.