Just in time for the holidays, One Direction has a new album in stores. We normally don’t give too much thought to the artistic aspirations of boy bands, but seeing as how One Direction is almost certainly the most popular band in the world these days, we decided to take a close listen to Midnight Memories. And you know what? We were pleasantly surprised by the new direction (pun intended) that they boys decided to take musically, referencing acts like David Bowie, Mumford And Sons and Don Henley along the way.
There is not proto-R&B or a long list of dance jams here; instead, they pull heavily from 80’s rock and the current wave of popular folksy music. Clearly, their highly compensated songwriting and producing team reached back into their high school hey-days for this one, with most of the references being closer to what these boys were probably conceived to and not what they grew up listening to. Overall, the album gets high marks – it’s no Arcade Fire, but it is solid pop music that is catchy and easy to listen to. It’s an album of growth, taking the boys from being teens themselves to more mature singers and songwriters, with each boy featuring in the credits at least once. Don’t fret, pop lovers of indiscriminate age – the burning torch of the boy bands is in good hands with these boys.
So, with all that said, what do these songs sound like, anyway? And how does one tell each of these guys apart? We’re to help, people. Here’s VH1’s Official Guide to One Direction’s Midnight Memories For Non-Teenagers:
TRACK 1: “Best Song Ever”
SOUNDS LIKE: A sprinkle of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and pure ole One Direction camp magic
The lead single from Midnight Memories was released as a promotional single for their documentary movie, This Is Us, earlier this year and still feels fresh. It’s pop at its most fluffy and fun, reminding us that One Direction know what their finest asset is: creating feel good sing along songs aimed at the masses. It feels as much like a summer single as you can get without directly referencing your sunburn and lakeside make-out sessions. The group’s best belter, Zayn Malik, exhibits some notable vocal flair, but the song mostly it keeps it safe and lets a few clever lyrics (“Her daddy was a dentist/Said I had a dirty mouth”), win you over. Almost incongruent to the rest of the more mature “rock” album, this track further stands out amongst the banjos.
TRACK 2: “Story of My Life”
SOUNDS LIKE: A buttery soft Mumford & Sons
The album’s second single is the first real departure we’ve heard from the band’s hallmark pop sound, leaning heavily on influence from the current nü-folk scene. The track, co-written by all five boys, clearly takes a notable step toward them avoiding being boxed in as a ‘boy band.’ The acoustic guitars pick along with soft harmonies and what sounds like the tickle of a mandolin somewhere in the mix. While it lacks the sing along quality we’ve come to know from 1D, it’s warm and meaningful without being a soppy ballad.
TRACK 3: “Diana”
SOUNDS LIKE: The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” mixed with Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer”
The ’80s nostalgia gets very real on “Diana,” a bouncy romp with a bumping bass line seemingly culled from The Police’s catalog, a “tribute” only slightly less shameless than what Bruno Mars did with “Locked Out Of Heaven.” But don’t get too married to the image of Harry Styles morphing into Sting and rambling on about tantric sex — as soon as the chorus hits, we’re basically singing Don Henley’s oft-covered “The Boys Of Summer.” Lyrically, the aim is to win the eponymous Diana over, so both the boys’ and her life can be saved, if not by love then by nostalgic hooks. A worthy shot at the pop-rock throwback.TRACK 4: “Midnight Memories”
SOUNDS LIKE: A Darkness cover band tackling “Pour Some Sugar On Me”
This might be the first time we’ve heard One Direction attempt to swear in a song! Sadly though, the end product is censored as “shah,” which no doubt is a relief to parents everywhere. The album’s title track tries hard to hang tough with crunching guitars and soaring vocals, even using excited panting as instrumentation. It’s as if they wrote a song for the sole purpose of taking advantage of their upcoming stadium tour, as it borrows heavily from the ’80s hair rock gods. This one doesn’t knock it out of the park the same way some of the other tracks do but you have to give the boys a high five for making the effort. Now we’re just waiting for Zayn to shave his beard into a Freddie Mercury mustache or for Niall to rock some extensions and head bang the night away.
TRACK 5: “You And I”
SOUNDS LIKE: Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” without the edge
A proper ballad, “You And I” is what one might expect from One Direction in the down-tempo category. That doesn’t mean they can just get away with it. This actually could have been a little more interesting if it had been a cover of the similarly titled Lady Gaga track, letting the boys belt it out. It reminds one a bit of an old Backstreet Boys ballad from their heyday, but melodically pulls from Bryan Adams, the ’80s influence going pop instead of rock this time.TRACK 6: “Don’t Forget Where You Belong”
SOUNDS LIKE: Mid-tempo updated Backstreet Boys
Ah, the quintessential song about friendship and staying true to who you are. This is a tried and true trope for any rising boy band to tackle. It’s their “Larger Than Life” and they play it off well on another OneRepublic-ish song which almost comes off as a love letter for their fans. It’s a nice break in the non-stop romantic and sexual take down that the rest of the album presents. All that flirting and flowers must get tiring, right?
TRACK 7: “Strong”
SOUNDS LIKE: The opening of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” funnily enough
The opening chords of this one are eerily similar of the other “Strong(er),” but it eventually turns into another middle of the road jaunt. The premise: the boys ask if it’s wrong to be stronger when they’re with their girl – a real hallmark of feminism, this one. But at least they can admit that this girl is strong enough for the both of them. The drum pads are hot and harmonies tight, but lazy rhyming—”Wrong” with “strong,” really?—pulls this one down.TRACK 8: “Happily”
SOUNDS LIKE: The bass line from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” taking a twirl with The Lumineers
Remember that indie song that infected almost every major brand’s commercials from Microsoft to the NFL for the past few years but you never quite know who it is? “Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my ma and pa…” That’s “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and 1D lifts the main jangly bass line for one of the better tracks on the album. Choice Taylor Swift ex, Harry Styles, lends a hand with the words and he does good, singing excitedly about how him and a certain someone are on fire. Easily one of the best tracks on the album: fiddles, banjos and stomps feature heavily, perhaps inspiring a new wave of young music listeners to fall into the current hipster-country lifestyle trend. Diet Snapple in mason jars!
TRACK 9: “Right Now”
SOUNDS LIKE: OneRepublic and Bastille had a fireside sing along with a baby wolf
You’re not imagining things: “Right Now” sounds a like a OneRepublic track because go-to songwriter and leading man Ryan Tedder co-wrote it. Indie darlings and cover-song virtuosos Bastille also influence this layered, echoing song about longing for a loved one. Although it lacks some of 1D’s signature flare for clever lyrics, there is a maturity here that could easily make this song a stadium sing along or an emotional backing track on Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t miss the wave of “ahhh-ooohh”s repeating throughout, reminiscent of a pack of dandy wolves on a full moon.TRACK 10: “Little Black Dress”
SOUNDS LIKE: David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” mixed with your genuine disbelief at reading those words in a 1D album review
Bowie guitars, shouty verses and well, an equally shouty chorus make up this come hither romp that will surely inspire stadiums full of girls to wear their best LBDs. There seem to only be about a dozen actual words in this song, including “little black dress” but it works well. The boys are very interested in seeing the way you move for them, move for them, baby. Surely what they mean is they want us to move down to a record store and pick up some old Bowie records and show up at the next concert in red wigs with lightning bolts painted across our faces. Or at least that’s the vibe that it’s emitting. Don’t worry, Aladdin Sane chic pairs tastefully with any little black dress.
TRACK 11: “Through The Dark”
SOUNDS LIKE: Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man” sanded down until it’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom
The pared down instrumentation on this mid-tempo track allows one to actually take note of the lovely tone of the boys voices. While not a group of Groban-esque singing virtuosos, the lads have solid voices that can lend some interest to more banal moments. Sweetly inoffensive and speaking to a love that they’d carry through fire and water for, it’s hard to hate. This and “Story of My Life” could be coupled together in a set called the Mumford Files.TRACK 12: “Something Great”
SOUNDS LIKE: Something okay
One of the slower and lower points on the album, “Something Great” doesn’t deliver like you think it will, building and building and then plateauing. Co-written by Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol fame, this song just trots along as a mid-tempo ballad and refuses to take a position of any sort. Another folksy moment.
TRACK 13: “Little White Lies”
SOUNDS LIKE: Avicii making out with *NSYNC on top of 1D’s last album
This song is what most would probably expect this entire album to sound like – pop with dub-step down beats. It would be on trend in the current pop climate for the boys to make an album of club ready jams playing on the recent mainstream success of EDM. The shocking restraint plays well here and the inclusion of electronic synths are a welcome change from the folksy and rock attitudes seen previously. Reminiscent of last years “Live While We’re Young,” in beat, this one has some slightly sexier lyrics, coyly stated, of course. “You say you’re a good girl, but I know you would girl.” After we heard this one, we just might.
TRACK 14: “Better Than Words”
SOUNDS LIKE: A Buzzfeed listicle or a savvy millennial’s Spotify playlist
Cheeky little Brits! It might take you a few seconds to get what’s going on when you listen to “Better Than Words,” but once you do, it’ll probably have you smiling. The verses are completely comprised of popular song titles. The references aren’t limited to the teen set either, we’re dropping references from Elvis’ “All Shook Up” to The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love?” Special attention is paid to our patron saint and impending empress Beyoncé, getting two references into the mix with both “Crazy In Love” and “Irreplaceable” getting mentions. The song’s melody doesn’t quite hold up to the clever premise, slowly bopping along with tight guitars and drum claps.