Nov. 25, 2013
I was unsure of what to expect when my headphones began streaming the first notes of One Direction’s third studio album, Midnight Memories. Although I haven’t been keeping up with the band since their days on the UK televised performing competition known as the X Factor, I’ve been listening to their music for a long enough time to be able to distinguish each member by voice, and I went to their Take Me Home Tour concert in Seattle this summer.
To be perfectly honest, even though I’ve memorized almost all the lyrics on their first two albums, I’ve never really liked their music. Sure, it was fun to blast with my friends when we were getting ready for a school dance or a party, and I enjoyed jumping and singing along to the live performance. On my way to school, however, with my iPod on shuffle, I found myself skipping their tracks every time they came on. The music was fun and poppy, but lacking in depth and originality.
When the first single off Midnight Memories, “Best Song Ever,” was released, I was disappointed. I’d read repeatedly that they were making a change, going for a new, more mature sound. The band members themselves were said to have a much larger hand in the writing process, and I was excited to finally hear something that was entirely their own. I didn’t find that in the taste they’d given their fans. It was a formulaic pop tune with a long list of writing credits which did not point to a single band member. The album was looking grim. Perhaps One Direction were, and always had been, destined to be plastic pop stars.
Then the rest of the album dropped. Suddenly, I understood what all the hype was about. I turned the volume all the way up and had a late night listening party with my roommates. I couldn’t believe the dramatic shift in sound. “Little Black Dress” and “Midnight Memories” are throwbacks to that 1980s classic rock sound found in Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” The opening notes of “Does He Know?” are reminiscent of “Jesse’s Girl.” Songs like “Happily” and “Through the Dark” have the folky feel akin to Phillip Phillips and Mumford and Sons. Even the songs that have undeniably pop tunes take a pop-rock approach and appeal to a more mature listening audience.
Furthermore, Midnight Memories is unquestionably lyrically superior to the band’s previous work. All but three of the eighteen songs on the Deluxe Edition had been written by at least one of the boys. Louis Tomlinson was the frontrunner with twelve writing credits, followed closely by Liam Payne’s nine songs, then Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik, who helped to write four, two, and one songs respectively. The lyrics were more relevant to people their age, moving away from the tired trope of singing about loving girls for their insecurities in order to appeal to a younger crowd. The songs detail them going after strong girls who, easy or hard to get, don’t need the male narrator to save them. Parts of the album drop the love (or lust) story entirely, and just sing of friendship and fun and enjoying youth. It’s hard to believe that this is the same group who sang a song entitled “Na Na Na.”
It doesn’t matter where your feelings toward boy bands, or even One Direction specifically, lie. It doesn’t even matter whether you typically enjoy pop music. This album is worth, at the very least, a listen.