Review Summary: The sound of stagnation.
The success of One Direction has been described by many detractors as nothing short of an anomaly. "How did they strike a chord with so many people?" "What's their appeal?" "When will their careers end?" It seems as though these questions haven't been answered, but I can safely say that this boy band are no anomaly whatsoever and these questions will be (or are) answered quite easily. When you get down to it, One Direction could essentially be considered the equivalent of taking pop star Justin Bieber's radio-friendly pop and squeaky-clean tween image and transferring those qualities into five young men from the UK. While trying to spearhead a new generation of boy bands, they've only garnered a reputation of killing what chance for revival and relevance the scene could have (for the tremendous number of detractors, anyway). And... yeah, I see exactly where the so-called "haters" are coming from. It would be cool to see the boy band sound make a return, particularly if it's in the vein of early-60s Beatles; instead, One Direction prefer to take the safest and most over-produced route to this endeavor. Perhaps the problem is more in the hands of The X Factor - the televised music competition they placed third in - as well as Simon Cowell for influencing the direction they'd take. In any case, the music is certainly nothing special; just your average run-of-the-mill teen/tween pop music.
This is all fine and dandy, however, because One Direction are now attempting to become more edgy with Midnight Memories. Described by the band as a more rock-inspired album than their last two, you'd expect the album to be a bit more mature and interesting. Unfortunately, it only comes off as stale and even confused; we'll get to the latter description later though. Right from the peppy power pop of opener "Best Song Ever" to the slow closing power ballad "Better Than Words," almost everything is overly predictable in relation to the band's already-established sound. At least with their previous effort Take Me Home, the singing felt a bit more genuine and the slower moments established a decent sense of emotion and atmosphere. Here, the production is at its most plastic, the rockier moments feel forced, nearly every composition features extremely predictable chord changes, the acoustic songs feel homogeneous, the list goes on. The lyrics are typical One Direction fare as well, usually about either love stories or having fun; when the music already doesn't feature much originality, it's pretty disappointing to find out that the lyrics don't deliver anything interesting either. And when I say the album doesn't feature originality, I really mean that; for instance, the chorus of the title track completely rips off Def Leppard's popular anthem "Pour Some Sugar on Me." It's not even just slightly similar; it has the exact same riff with the exact same "two-eighth-note" riff and a nearly identical multi-voiced vocal line. The faster acoustic songs such as "Story of My Life" and "Through the Dark" sound as though they're trying to follow the indie folk/pop craze ("Story of My Life" even sampling folk rock band Mumford and Sons), but they don't really have much staying power due to being extremely safe and bland. The acoustic guitar work is pleasant-sounding, but the chord progressions aren't new and the crescendos to the songs' climaxes (around the chorus) aren't very surprising considering how predictable the build-up in volume was. The album in general feels like a giant case of deja-vu, but sadly, that's not the only problem.
The other problem is that the band and anyone else who are behind this seem... confused. It seems weird to say that, but allow me to explain. This problem is defined by two separate issues that run through the entire experience. The first one is about the variety of the album. Midnight Memories featured a larger array of genres to experiment with, such as adding hard rock and having some songs veer off into folk-pop, but the folkier side is where the biggest issue lies. The way these songs are played, particularly the slower pieces, suggest an intimate atmosphere not unlike "Little Things" from their previous album; in the case of a song like "You and I," it's very clearly suggested that just two people are together in the song. The problem? There are five singers in One Direction. So what, are they all trying to be with one girl at the same time? It's probably not meant to be taken that way, but it conjures very confusing lyrical images in one's mind when 5 guys are all involved with the singing duties. The other huge problem with the record is that the band don't appear to know when to be more mature and when to appeal more to the tween demographic. The slow acoustic songs seem way too serious and mature for their typical fanbase, but songs like "Best Song Ever," "Diana," "Happily," and numerous other songs seem to throw that idea right out the window and revert to the band's old ways. This really muddles any message or musical evolution they're trying to convey, and it would have been better if they went for just one sound or the other; this transitional phase just sounds too messy.
Midnight Memories takes the slight progression of Take Me Home and demolishes it. It's aggravating because the members can clearly sing (although they all have quite similar voices) and they just don't put the talent to good use. Then again, it doesn't help when the music is so hopelessly bland either; the attempts at variety are forced and usually pretty boring, the songs that stay within the band's comfort zone are as plastic and cheesy as before, and the chord progressions are predictable from the first second you hear them. I tried to give these guys the benefit of the doubt earlier with Take Me Home, but if this kind of material is what they'll keep churning out, perhaps it's time for them to hang up the mics and call it quits for good.