Review Summary: Slowly but surely...
International musical punching bags One Direction have managed to draw such alternating praise (mainly stemming from quite a few critics and teenage girls) and ire (mainly stemming from just about everyone else) that everything surrounding the group has been pretty turbulent given how old they are. Originally a product of the X Factor, the boy band have seen such a growing fanbase that some journalists have been quick to consider them a leader in a new British Invasion; while this statement would generally be deemed ridiculous by a legion of music fans, one has to wonder if they really could lead such a pack someday.
This is because, unlike most mainstream pop cash-ins, One Direction attempt to rekindle a classic boy-band aesthetic while adding a fresh coat of paint in the production department. One big thing that's definitely refreshing about them is the lack of autotune in their work; the music might not be up to par, but these lads can be pretty talented in the vocal department. While their debut was mainly a breezy, laughably cheesy affair with hints of promise, the follow-up record Take Me Home sees the group genuinely trying to mature in certain places. The result is a decent step up in quality, even though the band still has a long way to go.
Much of the promise of the record comes in the form of its second single, "Little Things." The tune is able to take a more sparse approach than is normal for One Direction, and ends up coming off as more genuinely sentimental and sweet rather than outright cheesy and silly. The song revolves around an acoustic guitar line that could have fit into a track from the Beatles' first albums, aka the more poppy era. The way the vocals harmonize and meld into the minimal instrumental work is quite charming, but the way that the song never really has any filler is pretty surprising for the band involved.
Unfortunately, songs like these are few and far between, and much of the other material on the album follows the safe route of recycled synthesized beats and choruses that are quite frankly boring. Songs like "Rock Me" and "Kiss You" feel exceptionally cheap and fake with their bland beats and uninspired singing, while "I Would"'s promising opening gets squandered by an extremely repetitive chord progression; luckily, the vocal harmonies are a standout and do slightly redeem the track. The lyrics don't fare any better either, utilizing the same subjects surrounding love, heartbreak, and relationships, doing so with practically every cliche in the book. No song really goes out of these boundaries, and that simply gives listeners another reason to quickly get tired of the record. Finally, everything, from much of the singing to the instrumental work to the beats, just never feels engaging. No matter how hard the band try, most of these tunes never have the strength to even get off the ground due to a generally overproduced lifelessness to the whole experience.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. "They Don't Know About Us" opens up with a beautifully intimate piano line with acoustic guitar work decorating it as the vocals come into play. The chorus is a little too bombastic for its own good, but it also has a grand, confident air about it. The way the vocals layer and overlap compliments the electric guitar line that cuts through the mid-tempo beats. Mixed in with the shiny production, nothing feels overpowering or out-of-place. "They Don't Know About Us" and "Little Things" show that with more emotional weight and less excess, One Direction could improve by leaps and bounds.
For now, though, they managed to improve by baby steps. The cheesiness, loads of filler, and overly glossy production are still present and hinder much of what the album had the potential to accomplish. The band's definitely on to something, but only time will tell if they'll really go through with it.