The best thing about “Midnight Memories” is, in fact, that it doesn’t entirely sound like a fully-realized album. It sounds like a transitional stage with evidence of boys becoming men splashed over every track. On the album’s title track, Niall Horan sings, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m finding my way,” and that is exactly what comes across. The album is good, but what makes it interesting is the potential for greatness as One Direction continues to develop as a band.
The most notable difference between “Midnight Memories” and One Direction’s previous two albums is that each of the five members contributed to the songwriting, and only three tracks were written without the band’s collaboration. One of these is the album’s excellent lead single, “Best Song Ever,” which is catchy, straightforward pop that would easily fit in on last year’s “Take Me Home.”
The rest of the album, however, is quite a bit different: largely guitar-driven pop-rock showcasing the personal growth, complex ideas and unique personalities of each member.
Louis Tomlinson leads the group in songwriting, having helped pen 12 of the 18 tracks. Arguably One Direction’s weakest singer, Tomlinson demonstrates on “Midnight Memories” the impressive writing and production talent he has long since been cultivating. Alongside Liam Payne (who co-wrote nine “Midnight Memories” songs with Tomlinson), he has pursued a (yet rather inactive) role as director for One Mode Productions Limited, and is also largely responsible for plucking Australian pop-rock group 5 Seconds of Summer from obscurity and bringing them along as the opening act on One Direction’s Take Me Home Tour.
Tomlinson’s talent truly shines on the superb “Strong.” The song features mature, understated verses contrasted against a sweeping, fast-paced chorus. The musical accompaniment is rhythmic and interesting, solidifying “Strong” as one of the album’s best tracks.
Other standouts include “Happily,” “Little Black Dress,” “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Something Great.” From its tender ballads to harder dance tunes, “Midnight Memories” has a lot to offer as it teases a more adult side to One Direction. There is some implied profanity (“People talk shh– but we don’t listen.”) and suggested sexuality (“You say you’re a good girl, / But I know you would, girl.”). Scandalous!
One of Payne’s most interesting contributions to the album is “Better Than Words,” the verses of which are comprised only of other song titles. It name-drops everything from Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” representative of the idea that one’s own words are not enough to capture the essence of love. It’s a really intriguing concept, and the resulting song is equally captivating.
The album’s title track is massive — a throwback to solid ‘70s and ‘80s arena rock with a headbang-able chorus to the tune of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It was designed to translate effortlessly on One Direction’s forthcoming world stadium tour, and it will.
But the album has its weak points.
There is a disappointing lack of Zayn Malik’s presence on “Midnight Memories.” He has the fewest songwriting credits of all band members, contributing only to the group effort, “Story of My Life.” And, although he is one of the band’s strongest and most consistent singers, he is given few opportunities to demonstrate his vocal talent on this release. Instead, One Direction risks entrusting its weaker singers with carrying the meatier parts of songs like “You & I,” on which Horan unfortunately falls flat, leaving the song floundering.
A good chunk of “Midnight Memories” is clearly influenced by modern indie folk musicians along the lines of the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford & Sons. This works out amazingly well on the consummate and deeply emotional “Story of My Life” and on Harry Styles’ rebellious ode to young love, “Happily,” but less so on others such as “Through the Dark.”
The four bonus tracks are all good — similar in the traditionally over-the-top style of One Direction’s previous albums. “Alive” is particularly entertaining: it seems to be about seeking medical treatment for sex addiction (“My mother told me I should go and get some therapy. / I asked the doctor, ‘Can you find out what is wrong with me? / I don’t know why I wanna be with every girl I meet.’”), then thinking better of it (“Went to a party just after the doctor talked to me. / I met a girl, I took her in up to the balcony. / I whispered something in her ear that I just can’t repeat.”). The moral of the story being that there is really a fine line between nymphomania and youthful exuberance. Or something like that.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Half a Heart,” which also uses some ridiculous lyrics to convey, this time, a more romantic message. The chorus laments, “I’m walking around with just one shoe. / I’m half a heart without you.” The band might not ever top a lyric like “I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British” from “Over Again,” but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.
Altogether, “Midnight Memories” is a nice third album from One Direction and a tantalizing taste of what the future holds for these five artists. They obviously have what it takes to make a Beatleslike leap from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road.” “Midnight Memories” isn’t quite there yet, but the outlook is good.
Release Date: Nov. 25
Genre: Pop, Rock