Friday, January 3, 2014

OneDirection - "Midnight Memories"

Zachary Houle of Popmatters puts it best in his review of 1D's debut album when he opines "The british boy band is the kind of thing serious music critics aren't supposed to like."  I could just as easily say the same thing about their 3rd album "Midnight Memories" - or any of them, really.  Then I gave it a try, and was pleasantly surprised.  3 albums in, they are still carrying a torch for something all too rarely seen in current-generation boy band music - they are trying to make it a little more their own.  Yes, the Backstreet Boys did finally get around to that with In A World Like This, but it took them far longer to reach that stage than it did for 1D.

From the beginning, 1D were a story of would-be failure, seeing as they started as the runners-up on the X-Factor, one of many singing talent shows out there in a [frankly] over-saturated market.  As with some American Idol runners-up, they proved that sometimes the people who don't win can be far more interesting than those who do (anyone here remember Ruben Studdard?   Right - that's what I thought.)

What sets them apart from most of their ilk is a few tenuous, but still valid, grabs at credibility.  Even if they haven't written every last line and note all by themselves, and still have plenty of help producer-wise, just co-writing shows at least an attempt to make this very-polished affair something more their own.  From the get-go with the sparkling "Best Song Ever" they continue a trend of more muscular pop.  Sure, this isn't rock and roll by any measure, but it definitely "rocks" harder than most pop does - free of the overly synth-dependent swirls that the late 90's / early 2000's pop boom was all too indebted to.  The song is pure, unadulterated boyband cheese, but they carry it with an energy to make all but the most jaded listener not care.  And even when they ape acts who cut their teeth in music before most of them were born, they neatly tread the line between homage and outright rip off.  From the Police-aping bounce of "Diana," to the 80's-era Def Leppard swagger of the album's title track, they cover all the bases, and manage to take even sounds that had very little to do with pop in the first place and buff them to within an inch of their life.  Usually such a phrase would be a criticism - here they make it so catchy that - once again, all but the most jaded of listeners would be hard pressed to care.  The only mis-steps on this album are some of the more painfully "classic boyband structured" ballads, like the clunky "You & I" with overwrought lyrics ("Not even the gods above") and the achingly earnest oh-so-sincere vocal gymnastics that make it sound like they're trying to do Bryan Adams and not quite getting there.  When it comes to ballads, they succeed much more with tracks like "Right Now."  From the simple, understated backing track, to mid-chorus "oo-ooo's" that sound telegraphed from some forgotten early Beach Boys track, to the not too earnest, just pleading enough longing infused throughout, this one hits all the right notes.

The young men of 1D have put out 3 albums in as many years - time will tell if their winning streak keeps up.  Whatever may happen with that, they have released a worthy pop album [that actually has some muscle] with Midnight Memories.

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