The Show is the third and finest album from former One Direction member Niall Horan. Building upon the soft rock persona cultivated through his solo career so far, he expands upon this by borrowing from a similar 80s pop-rock palette to that of former bandmate Harry Styles in his immensely successful album Harry’s House – this is largely the impact of shared collaborators Tobias Jesso Jr and Amy Allen. However, Horan’s individuality shines through, particularly in the lyrical content that’s both introspective and charming. Like many artists, the pandemic (and subsequent cancellation of his Heartbreak Weather promotional tour) gave Horan an opportunity to sit still. This period of reflection shaped the more mature tone of the album in which he digs into his relationships and emotions more deeply than ever before.
Hit lead single Heaven opens the album brightly with a wall of vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys, further nodding to them with the repetition of “god only knows” in the chorus. The track displays Horan at his most optimistic as he describes a relationship so incredible that even heaven itself pales in comparison: “Your touch is made of something heaven can’t hold a candle to.” The anthemic second single Meltdown is another highlight, the album’s As It Was moment. With a driving bass line and punchy drums, the upbeat track is a reassurance that even when everything seems to be going wrong, you’re never going through it alone: “When it all melts down, I’ll be there.”
The album strikes the perfect balance between upbeat tracks and intimate ballads, the latter of which best showcase Horan’s introspective side. The title track feels like the album’s centrepiece, beginning with soft piano chords and unfolding into a cinematic string arrangement. The first song Horan wrote while stuck at home during the pandemic, it notes that if life was always easy we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the brighter moments: “how would we know how good we have it though?” This is followed by the stripped-back love song You Could Start A Cult, featuring a gentle acoustic strumming and a harmonica solo that evokes Bob Dylan, played by Horan himself. Left-of-field pick-up lines like “you could start a war or two, kingdoms fighting over you” feel earnestly romantic when delivered by the ever-charming Horan.
The Show is easily Horan’s best effort to date, an incredibly engaging experience which balances energetic pop anthems with tender love songs and introspective ballads. The gap between albums provided the perfect amount of breathing space for the 29-year-old to create a project that’s thoughtful in both its themes and pacing. There was a risk that it could have fallen in the shadow of Styles’ ubiquitous Harry’s House given its similar sound, but Horan’s matured songwriting infuses the album with a unique personality.