It’s no secret that by their nature, there’s a ticking time bomb on boy bands. There’s only so long that their audience will listen to different versions of the same manufactured commercial pop. The boys of One Direction and their production team have realized this, and their third studio album “Midnight Memories” is a deviation from the uptempo pop love songs that rule their first two albums.
One of the most notable differences in the third album is the number of songs written by the members themselves. In both “Up All Night” (2011) and “Take Me Home” (2012) , the majority of songs were written by professional songwriters. In the first album, only three of the 13 songs were co-written by the five members. In contrast, 13 of the 18 songs on “Midnight Memories” were co-written by at least one member. The lion’s share of the song writing was done by members Louis Tomlinson (21) and Liam Payne (20).
The number of songs written by the members represents a turning point in the band’s maturity that is reflected continually throughout the album. The songs come across as more authentic as the band members personal feelings and experiences are reflected in the lyrics. The album has significant alternative and rock influences, due to members of One Republic, McFly and Snow Patrol all helping One Direction to write songs for the album. In addition, all five members have a similar number of solos throughout the tracks, making the distribution of solos more evenly spread than in prior albums.
“Midnight Memories” opens with the track “Best Song Ever,” the first single off the album released by the band to promote their movie “This is Us”. This song provides a nice segway between this album and the first two collections, and is the most lighthearted track by far. It’s presence on this record ensures the album will still attract veteran listeners, who are a sizable part of One Direction’s fan base.
The second track, and the second single off the album, “Story of My Life” marks the beginning of the album’s shift towards a deeper, more mature sound. The stripped back sentimental guitar ballad takes the best of alternative rock sound and covers it in a sheen of sugary pop. It manages to sound more rock based than their past ballads, while still sticking with the “pop roots,” that skyrocketed One Direction to fame in the first place.
Instrumentals play a much greater role in this album than in the past, and the predominant guitar influence on the album can be seen specifically in “Little Black Dress.”
“Little Black Dress,” is perhaps the most ‘sexually explicit’ song on the album, and is likely to shock younger listeners who have become accustomed to lyrics like “When you smile at the ground it ain’t hard to tell/you don’t know you’re beautiful.” The lyrics on “Little Black Dress,” are significantly raunchier, with Harry Styles crooning “Little Black Dress who you doin it for/I wanna see the way you move for me baby.”
Other highlights of the album include “Better than Words,” a track whose lyrics are entirely composed of song titles, including Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
Songs written by Styles in particular, like “Something Great,” and “Happily,” have a more indie, rock sounding vibe, a reflection of Styles’s own personal music taste. Styles cites bands like Mumford and Sons as one of his favorites, and the influence of their style and lyricism can be seen on these tracks in particular.
Unfortunately, a few songs on the album still contain that generic, rushed feel present on many tracks in their previous two albums. Notably, “Right Now” sounds like a combination of many of their previous tracks mashed together. It lacks any semblance of originality. The chorus is extremely whiny, to a point where it becomes grating on the ears.
“Midnight Memories” is aesthetically never boring. Its range of tracks will appeal to a wide variety of listeners, pleasing devoted “Directioners” and attracting new fans with the shift in sound.
All in all, “Midnight Memories,” still fulfills the basic requirements of a pop album, while attempting and succeeding to break free from the traditional boy band mold. This album marks a change in the band’s sound that will be reflected in records to come.