Review Summary: Join the Navy.
One Direction is the latest in a long line of acts that make the girls scream and, for a certain set of people looking to separate themselves from the unidentifiable masses, a target for unreasonable amounts of hatred. Cute white boys pack stadiums with screaming girls while the pretentious throngs take it upon themselves to inform them that they are stupid and should listen to real music. It’s a tradition dating back to The Beatles. Before One Direction it was Justin Bieber, before him it was the Jonas Brothers, before them it was N*SYNC or it was the Backstreet Boys or it was the New Kids on the Block. But this vehement hatred isn’t just predictable, it’s lazy.
For one, your superior music taste cannot be proven by disliking something. For another, this auto rejection is so predictable it’s exhausting. Hating something means you risk nothing. It’s the ones that decide to stand beside their favorite music, no matter how much they're told not to, that risk something, that have to defend their tastes to others. Miring yourself in hatred protects you, you put nothing on the line by hating something so popular and feel superior as you go against the grain, standing out in a crowd of mindless consumerist sheep when in reality, you’re just another type of sheep and your herd is twice as annoying and twice as dull as the other herd.
What must be particularly infuriating about One Direction is how consistent they’ve been so far. Boy bands have actually benefited from the crash of the physical CD and since 1D can’t sell the kind of copies boy bands used to be able to they’ll never have a No Strings Attached
hanging over their head, leaving them free of the pressure of having to up an impossible ante. They’ve also been improving, their debut Up All Night
stumbled over the weight of post-X Factor expectations but by Midnight Memories
they were finding their footing, not an easy thing to do when you’re being counted on to move units in every country on Earth.
Despite Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson being the only members significant enough to get their own Wikipedia pages, there’s a refreshing lack of ego in One Direction and every member gets enough time in front of the microphone to shine. They hang together perfectly as a unit, their voices all have a unique grain and harmonize excellently. Niall Horan possesses a gorgeous lilt that receives it’s showcase during the first verse of the downright lovely “Fool’s Gold”. The unexpectedly moving “Night Changes” cops a gentle shuffle and some lovely “Ooo’s” laying down a lovely blanket for Styles to croon the chorus. Harry Styles passes album highlight “No Control” off to Louis Tomlinson for a rocketing chorus while Zayn Malik shows up for a stirring bridge that empties out for one more huge chorus.
The production, helmed by a team of no less than 9
people, ensure everything here is appropriately gleaming. You can practically see yourself in the spotless veneer of these tracks as the group cycles through the mega pop of “Steal My Girl” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”, the tender balladry of “18” and “Fool’s Gold”. Part of Four
’s strength as a full length is the clear boundaries the group’s songwriters (a roster that includes shaggy it-boy of the moment Ed Sheeran) and producers draw for them. Throughout Four
1D never overstep their abilities, no ill advised trips into EDM or dubstep, they keep it in their wheelhouse and it makes for a tight 45 minutes or so. Still, it would be to their benefit to find their own sound. As consistently strong as Four
is, it can occasionally comes across as too familiar for its own good. “No Control” bares more than a passing resemblance to Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” while “Ready to Run” closely resembles any number of neo-folk smashes, through 1D pull it off by being free of the pretensions that sink the Mumfords and Hoziers of the world.
Despite beginning life as a new yacht for Simon Cowell, One Direction have evolved into a dependably solid pop group (and a fleet of new yachts for Simon Cowell). Although Four
is their strongest work to date, it doesn’t have the vitality that makes for truly memorable pop. Four
is full of good songs but no great ones. For 1D to move beyond fun pop they need to step beyond their comfort zone and trust their audience to follow. Assuming they don’t implode over some ol’ bullsh*t or start reading the contracts Cowell chained them to, it’s not hard to imagine 1D moving a bit further as a unit before disintegrating into solo careers. For now, they’re one of the most consistant popular pop acts we got.