These boys are now men
Released 25th November, 2013
Love them or hate them, you cannot avoid them. Teen-pop sensations One Direction are at the peak of their, or any band in history’s, success. Despite being released in late November, their most recent album, Midnight Memories, became the best selling album of the year, with 685,000 copies shifted. With the members all now out of their teens, this album was clearly an attempt at a transition from teenyboppers to credible group. The moody album artwork and unceremonious ditching of Swedish hit machines Carl Falk and Rami Yacoub (who wrote the majority of their first two albums) only served as signals of intent.
Musically and lyrically, the growth was evident. Lyrical responsibility was handed to the once mollycoddled boys for 15 of 18 tracks, with the majority of the burden being handled by Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne. Themes included childhood reflection, family, love and perhaps tellingly for this record’s intentions, sex and partying. The bluntly titled ‘Why Don’t We Go There’ will doubtless have sent the hormones of many a teen girl into overdrive. Musically the album made a pointed move away from the bubblegum pop/rock of their previous efforts. The main inspirations for this record were clearly classic rock and the folk rock of the Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, which has taken over the world over the past few years.
The folk influence is immediately evident on worldwide hit single ‘Story of My Life’. Harry Styles and co reminisce on childhood regrets over a floaty guitar riff and let it all out on an anthemic chorus. Harry, the youngest of the five, is ubiquitous in celebrity news, but on this track his husky vocals truly shine. The folk trend doesn’t stop there and Styles’ only solo lyrical effort ‘Happily’ could have come off the Lumineers’ backburner. Over a jaunty guitar line, the group dissect a past relationship and one of the albums more explicit moments is found here, as Louis Tomlinson ponders whether his ex missus’ new beau will feel ‘his traces in her hair’. Let’s hope he gave her some shampoo for the birthday. The final key examples of 1D”s folk experiments are ‘Through the Dark’ and the Gary Lightbody co-write ‘Something Great’. Both feature killer choruses and romantic lyrics that don’t push you perilously close to seeing your lunch again. At this point of the record you might be almost convinced that the One direction these guys are headed in might have some longevity.
We hear the classic rock influences clearly on the Van Halen influenced third single and title track. The lyrics are fed in around a grungy guitar loop straight from the late 70’s. Lyrically, the song emulates the classic bands of the times and their philosophies, the rebellious edge shown with ‘tell me that I’m wrong but I do what I please’. ‘Little Black Dress’ continues this vibe, the group chanting the lyrics in staccato over a metallic, scratchy guitar beat. It is one of the record’s standout moments and the furthest departure from their initial pop sound.
The transformation is dramatic but not unpredictable. These boys are now men and no longer possess the innocence they once did. Album highlight, ‘Does He Know’, sees Zayn Malik tempting a fan to forget about her boyfriend for the night, all while showing off his voice, easily the group’s most impressive. Make no mistake this is still One Direction. They still fall back occasionally on soppy balladry. But there is a difference. The lyrics can be related directly to them. ‘Don’t Forget Where You Belong’, co-written with McFly, tells the story of what they are. Five British boys launched to international stardom, away from their modest upbringings. The catchy choruses are still there, but they lean towards the rousing, not the saccharine. This is a good pop-rock album, with credible and personal lyrics. Of course, they are not a real band. They are a vocal group who are morphing into lyricists as well. But shouldn’t we be proud? Five British boys, who seemingly remain humble, are the biggest act in the world. No meltdown, akin to Justin Bieber’s, seems imminent. As long as Styles keeps himself off Keeping Up with The Kardashians, we should be all right.