So in 2010 five boys didn’t win some singing competition and decided to band together to form a, well, band. Harry, Liam, Zayn, Louis and Niall decided they were all heading the same way and chose to go by One Direction. Since then they’ve released some music, made some money and apparently a few girls like them too. Now, in what is becoming somewhat of a November tradition, the boys have released their fourth studio album in three years, aptly titled Four.
The boys themselves have had more to do with the composition of Four than any album to date, and it’s all the better for it. The 1D staples of dynamic all-in chorus’, simple verses and catchy melodies are still there, but giving the band members more creative control and having at least one of them feature as a writer on almost every song has made for a glossy pop album that teeters in other genres as well. There are intricate little things going on in each track with ironic little feature sounds and chanty backing vocals that make Four completely current and interesting.
Ready To Run and Girl Almighty are great examples of the genre mash up I’m talking about. Vibing off Avicii’s Wake Me Up, they blend pretty melodies, acoustic guitar riffs and big One Direction chorus’ that capitalise on the Country/Pop/Dance genre mash up that has been so successful of late. While Ready To Run is lovely and more poignant, Girl Almighty will get hands clapping and people dancing. No Control adds to the foot stomping vibe and lifts the album up with fun whoa-oh-oh’s and drawling vocal choices over a boppy guitar rhythm, and it’s a sound that really works for 1D.
The much talked about writing collaboration with their mate Ed Sheeran, brings us 18 – Four’s answer to Take Me Home’s Little Things. They completely channel the red headed musical GOD in structure, vocal choices and phrasing. It’s a gorgeous song that is soaked in Sheeran – and 1D should be thanking him. Something that is impressive and evident though is that One Direction are not willing to rest on their laurels. Easily could they have stuck with what worked for them in the past and stayed true to the sound of What Makes You Beautiful or Story Of My Life, but here they keep us guessing. Fireproof, already a fan favourite is simple and cutesy, light and fun and in stark contrast to opening track Steal My Girl. Dipping their toes in the rock realm, Steal My Girl has an arena sized feel and slamming piano accompaniment that has the faintest whisper of Springsteen about it. Adding to the crowd pleasers is Clouds, the enormous, stadium friendly pop rock anthem sure to be a hit with it’s wailing electric guitar.
A handful of tracks miss the mark for me, even though I know any number of them could be blowing up my radio over the next few months. Namely the shouty Where Do Broken Hearts Go, the emotionally diluted Spaces and the The 1975 rip off Change Your Ticket. If the leather clad, red wining drinking Matt Healy and co. are the bad boys of Indie Brit Pop, 1D have made a play for the role of the white hats with Change Your Ticket showing all the makings of Chocolate, without the edge.
But despite the experimentation in genre crossover, it is more than just the boyish charm binding this album together. Four is drenched in an overwhelming feeling of hope, change and trust as the five boys become men. They are in a transitional phase and it is evident in this body of work, with the lyrical content swinging from growing up to staying young. The more mellow stylings of Night Changes sums it up saying Only getting older baby / And I’ve been thinking about it lately / Does it ever drive you crazy / Just how fast the night changes while the stampy, Irish ho-down track Act My Age makes light of their Peter Pan syndrome with When I’m fat and old / And my kids think I’m a joke / ’cause I move a little slow / I can count on you / After all that we’e been through / I won’t act my age / No I won’t act my age / No I’ll still feel the same around you.
Four is great. The production is impeccable, the vocals more distinctive and their musical choices more impressive. One can only hope One Direction continue to ride this wave in the positive, refreshing way they have. Already there have been hints and rumours that something’s up with Zayn, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s us media geeks blowing it out of proportion and not the album title turning into an ominous jinx. Although I would love to see the boys go all 5ive-eque and dance around a Zayn cardboard cut out. One Direction have everything they need to defy their critics and this maturing sound is really working for them. Just remember, you heard it here first. I think they’re going to be big.