Growing In A New Direction

midnight memories one direction

One Direction’s Midnight Memories sounds significantly more like a group of 20-somethings than their previous albums.

It’s easier to believe that it wasn’t written solely by a roundtable of middle-aged pop craftsmen and to see what influenced the boys’ tastes. I guess it helps that at least one band member holds a writing credit on each track.

The sound is almost like it wants to be dad rock, but with a heavy ‘80s influence that’s too clean and fluffy. It’s more like dressing up in your dad’s high school clothes pop-rock.

“Does He Know” is essentially an update of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” It’s probably my favorite off the record because of that.

Though I’m concerned this borderline sampling of an older track is becoming a trend: the title track sounds eerily like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Best Song Ever” sounds just like “Baba O’Reilly” with its synth and piano layered opening. I have to say, it still works.

Now, for those skeptics who write off boy bands on principal, I hope you’re still with me.

The boy band sub-genre is actually a fascinating marriage of a horrible (and successful) attempt to sell sex to pubescent girls, the (less successful) attempt for androgynously non-threatening young men who don’t play instruments to break into radio play and the unbelievable buying power of the teenage girl demographic. It’s bizarrely cool when broken down that way, at least to me.

But, soon a new issue arises: what happens when the boyish personas can’t hold and they want to grow into men?

The boy band archetypes call for the Justin, the Lance, the Howie, the Brian, the Nick, etc. to stand and be counted: rise to superstardom, scandal, drugs or fall to obscurity. And that’s what I’m starting to see with this album.

This particular time in One Direction’s career is so crucial to their development as a musical entity and as a viable commodity. With a contractual obligation and monetary incentive to complete three more albums as a unit before 2016, they still need to hold on to their young fan base for stadium and album sales to remain successful. However, I’m starting to see their attempts to own their sound and age it with them, along with a hefty chunk of their fans.

Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Harry Styles seem to remain the vocal staples of most songs while there’s a lot of background, single line deals from Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan.

This lack of balance is not uncommon in boy bands (the “Justin” effect), but certainly does not yield equal opportunities for the latter two to be the breakout of the group.

Of course, it’s hardly perfect. “Better than Words” is probably my least favorite. The whistling opening bars that seem to crop up in so many mainstream tracks are grating to me, especially when paired with the bizarre howling toward the end.

“Half A Heart” is their token weepy, cuddle track. It’s not on the same level of lovely as their previous album’s “Little Things” and its concept is a little too worn for me.

But, for the songs that miss, they’re the strong tracks that fit my necessary boy band, ear candy criteria: fit for both ugly crying and singing in the car.

The single “Story of My Life” is the right mix of emotion and pacing and I’ve already ensured it passes the aforementioned test.

“Happily” is aggressively upbeat. I’m fine with it for now, but I could easily see it as a migraine waiting to happen when it’s undoubtedly overplayed in my car during long drives with my little sister.

Midnight Memories sees a very clear change in the band’s approach to their sound, from the sex appeal in their lyrics (the bestial [yet still non-threatening] male-bravado is ever increasing from their debut “Up All Night”) to the lower, raunchier way they use their voices.

The songs still follow a fairly standard formula (think: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, altered key-change chorus with Harry singing a slow-mouthed breakdown and Zayn wailing out some high note), but it’s still, somehow, not at all monotonous.