Saturday, November 23, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Midnight Memories (One Direction)

(this review is of the Deluxe addition of Midnight Memories, which features three more songs than the standard version).

A year on from Take Me Home, the nation’s most lusted after boyband have gotten up to all manner of adventure, from Harry’s failed relationship with Taylor Swift irking her so much that she felt the need to blast him on various public occasions, to Zayn being accused of cheating on Little Mix’s Perrie, only to follow it up with a proposal, classic. The boys have shown they are now fully-fledged #adults by inking various parts of their body (even little Niall has a tattoo now!), and in between that, they’ve managed to star in a Morgan Spurlock documentary, and, oh yeah, make some music.

The album opens with the somewhat ambitiously titled Best Song Ever. It’s not quite that, but it’s a sufficiently cheerful pop number with a catch chorus, making it a shoo-in for playlists in upcoming Christmas parties (I’ve already heard it in upmarket bars!). Happily has a charming country music vibe to it, all strings, banjo, and feet-stamping. Perhaps I’m biased, but I really don’t see the criticism that the boys can’t sing, especially when their voices sound so strong on this track, all without an autotune in sight.

Story of My Life has deepness and maturity that we normally expect these five to eschew, featuring Zayn’s heartfelt delivery of “but baby, running after you is like chasing the clouds”, a gorgeous line of poetry that drives home the sad point that no matter how much you love someone, it might not work. Unfortunately, it was slightly let down by the Mumford and Sons-esque riff in the background, a band I associate with mawkishness. Don’t Forget Where You Belong channel Take That, in a good way, with a cheeky WMYB nod: “and the proof is in this song”. The refrain is absolutely swoon-worthy, exhibiting the vocal talents of the band’s two fittest members, Louis and Zayn (just dictatin’), who’s voices complement each other’s terrifically.

It doesn’t take Alfred Kinsey to work out that in the three years since the band’s inception, One Direction have racked up a few notches in their bedposts, and this worldliness comes across in their music, which is more adult, more self-assured. The album’s title track Midnight Memories serves up GQ-type swagger, boyband style. The line “5 foot something with the skinny jeans” hails 30H!3 Starstruck and its more lascivious “tight jeans, double DDs” with a sexy, rock-style, whilst teetering on the right side of naughty (“Same old shhhh but a different day”) such that pre-teens’ parents won’t refuse to buy the album. Little Black Dress, a throwback to vintage rock that Louis and Liam helped co-pen, simply exudes sex, and is all the better for it. And Alive, which casually glazes upon the topic of sex addiction, features angel-faced Niall reciting “I whisper something in her ear that I just can't repeat”, which is certainly something.

These days, it seems an album isn’t anything without a cheeky bit of dubstep on it, and the token dupstep track of Midnight Memories is Little White Lies, a song which addresses an issue that is under-represented in mainstream pop music by men: that woman want sex just as much as guys do. “I know you want it/ I know you feel it too/ Let's stop pretending/ That you don't know what I don't know/ Just what we came to do” they sing in two-beat, and because this is One Direction, the topic of female desire makes for jaunty music-making, whereas in the hands of Robin Thicke, it just sounds creepy. You see, presentation is everything.
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At 18 songs, the law of averages would dictate that there will be some non-entities, and this album has (possibly more than) its share. Diana is filler song in motion, and the Tears for Fears vibes of Everyone Wants to Rule the World-sounding in the background cannot redeem the ambiguity with the lyrics “I don't think you even realize baby you'd be saving mine” with regards to whether the song is about Princess Diana puts it in the vaguely poor taste category. You and I isn’t as affecting or sweet as their other love songs, and “not even the gods above can separate the two of us” reminds me of the first song (can’t remember the name) on Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz album. It’s never good when a song reminds you of Miley Cyrus, just truthin’. And Strong is a tad corny for me, whilst Does He Know is forgettable, and two of the few songs I would angle the “all One Direction songs sound the same” criticism at. And whilst Midnight Memories had a tolerable amount of Mumford and Sons similarity, Something Great sounded too much like M&F than I felt permissible.

Where I complimented the lads on their braveness to try their hand at falsetto in the Take Me Home album, they clearly had fun doing so, because there’s some more on Right Now, with Zayn pushinghis vocal range at “You know I can't fight the feeling” like a pro. The final song of the deluxe edition, Half a Heart, seems a gloomy tone to depart on, but what it lacks in happiness it makes up for in pure emotion, with Zayn belting “I'm half a man- at best / With half an arrow in my chest/I miss everything we do/ I'm half a heart without you”. It really is true what they say; an artist has to suffer to produce true art, and in the same way, it helps, as a someone appreciating the work if you’ve suffered the pangs of disappointed love, because the lyrics of Half a Heart really resonated. And it seems quite apt that the legendary player of 1D, Harry, ends the song, and the album, with the last sad word.

Persevere with Midnight Memories. Sticking two filler songs within the first five tracks of the album wasn’t too clever, but there is quality on it, not to mention some emotional lyrics that render some of the songs almost as layered as an onion. That being said, I don’t think it surpasses Take Me Home. It ends with less of a bang, and whereas even the filler songs of Take Me Home survived the repeat listening test (I’ve since completely altered my view of Heart Attack, which I’ve decided is brilliant), I imagine you’d have to pay me to re-listen to some of the duds on this album again. However, it’s still better than 99% of the crap that’s out in the music industry, and once again, exhibits that One Direction are so much more than just five pretty faces.

Grade: A-

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