One Direction Midnight Memories (Syco) ⋆⋆⋆⋆
Many a serious music buff sneered heartily back in July as One Direction emerged with a new single called Best Song Ever. Surely such hubris would signal the beginning of this globally adored outfit’s inevitable downfall? Or so the naysayers hoped.
Well, not yet. That song’s video broke a record for the most online views in a 24-hour period. And the subsequent long-player has become the fastest-selling album in Amazon’s history, before even being released. Which suggests that their direction remains resolutely upwards. Headline-hogging boy-bands are hardly rare, but the ever-widening reach of this TV-formed quintet continues to confound those who lament the ethos of Simon Cowell and Co. And yet, that success should make perfect sense to anyone who has actually deigned to listen to a One Direction album. They really are wonderfully well crafted. This third LP maintains their gradual evolution, it being a “bit more edgy”, according to the band’s Liam Payne. In truth, Midnight Memories is about as edgy as a soft-boiled egg, but follows the punk pastiches of last year’s Take Me Home by integrating evocative hints of guitar rock throughout. Happily begins with an almost grunge-era bassline, for example, before launching into a spectacularly cheery chorus: 1D’s attempt at that famous Nirvana formula.
Edging towards indie is a sensible policy, as a maturing fan base is the downfall of most pop acts, eventually. Even the slushier tracks here often take a late diversion into Coldplay-like guitar territory, while Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody co-writes the earnest anthem Something Great, which, admittedly, isn’t. The boys sound happier taking on chirpier styles, from the title track’s glam stomp to the 1980s hair-metal of Little White Lies and the slightly sleazy Little Black Dress.
That song is the closest they come to full-scale adult-themed rock, thankfully, as generally 1D’s prime weapon is their sheer likeability. One recurring lyrical topic here is the heartfelt insistence that, no, they haven’t changed. It’s particularly explicit on Don’t Forget Where You Belong (co-written with another enduring boy-band, McFly), and the beautifully sung Right Now, with its painful admission to an absent loved-one: “We won’t be going home for so long.”
Perhaps the most telling composition here, though, is the latest single. Story of My Life is a joyous, Mumford and Sons-style jangle-folk hoedown that should draw in a varied cross-section of unsuspecting radio listeners, to promising long-term effect. Far from fizzling out, One Direction are rapidly becoming a gilt-edged guilty pleasure.