British/Irish boy band One Direction just released their fourth album, FOUR, to mixed reviews. Although the criticism has been dubious, it is certain that their latest LP has managed to transition from “bubble-gum pop” to a well polished, individualistic sound. They have also strengthened their lyricism to engage a broader demographic of listeners with a more mature sound.
The British X-Factor-made band – Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne – continue to produce a mixture of acoustic melodies, alluring ballads and a range of ’80s pop-rock tempos that make for an album pleasing to the ear. The album maintains their original purpose while displaying nuances of their lyrical growth.
The band has released a new album, without fail, every November for four years straight since the band was created in 2011. It’s a strategic plan meant to keep the group relevant and a significant stronghold in contemporary pop. But the band has modified their style after each release.
Up All Night felt like a first album produced by a boy band with up-tempo beats and artificial lyrics programmed to fit a teen-inducing frenzy where the band’s vocals faded into one another without distinction. Then fast forward to Take Me Home. Their sophomore album evolved into a collaboration of heard-before pop themes in addition to a focus on relationships, love, the works. The band’s 2013 release of Midnight Memories ultimately changed the game for the band, with its 80s rock-based undertones that helped influence the maturity in the lyricism and emphasis on substantial drum beats and guitar solos.
Then FOUR hit the scene and reached No. 1 on the charts immediately. Primarily Julian Bunetta and John Ryan produced it, but the band took a more involved role in writing. The appropriately named album exhibits a fresh sound that doesn’t quite fit any generic genre of music. One Direction dabbles with ’80s melodies while leaning towards a Journey/Bruce Springsteen hybrid; a few original love ballads and a mix of pop keep the up-tempo rhythm of the album. The distinct and apparent voices of each member of the band in this album demonstrate the growth not only in musical style but vocal talent.
Starting off with their single “Steal My Girl,” the album generates a pop vibe that doesn’t overwhelm or disappoint. From apologetic melodies in “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” to the bad boy, slightly wavering PG “No Control” to the fun and peppy “Change Your Ticket,” the group holds tightly to their pop roots that boosted their popularity and fandom.
Emphasizing their older tastes, the boys channel their ’80s love-vibes in songs like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Ready to Run,” where the echo of drums and powerful guitar riffs reflect an era before their time. These types of songs have the ability to appeal to a wider range of listeners outside of the devoted teen following, inviting an age and gender-neutral demographic to enjoy the new style of music.
To wrap up the variety of sounds this album presents, One Direction wouldn’t quite be authentic if they didn’t write and record some crowd-pleasing, yet sincere love ballads. Take for example “Night Changes,” another single off of the album that represents an old-school vibe but also demonstrates the maturity of the group as a whole. This song as well as “18” – a song co-written with the close friend of the band and successful British artist, Ed Sheeran – showcase a range of lyricism and growth through experiences with relationships and love. A listen to any of these, along with “Illusion” or “Once in a Lifetime,” prove that these boys are moving from boyhood to manhood, album to album.
One Direction has been successful without the need for choreographed dance numbers, matching outfits or repetitive and superficial songs produced strictly to sell albums. The British/Irish group has an authentic sound that matures through each album as they participate in the writing, while also selling out world arenas just by showing up and performing a product they’re proud of. FOUR is a testament to the unrelenting hard work the band has exhibited the past four years. The overwhelming success One Direction has gained confirms that their momentum surely isn’t slowing down any time soon.