Review: One Direction, ‘Midnight Memories’

One Direction, Midnight Memories © Columbia

1D grow up some on Midnight Memories, lose some of their fun
One Direction • Midnight Memories • Syco • US Release Date: November 25, 2013

Once more, everyone’s favorite boy band One Direction return with their third album in two years… yes you read that correctly.  On the one hand, it could be argued that One Direction should be perfect candidates for overexposure, like really.  Yet on the the other hand, you can’t ‘knock the hustle’ as the band are easily one of pop’s hottest commodities, no questions asked.  Midnight Memories finds the Brit-Irish band taking one step closer to adulthood as well as for the most part eschewing the teen-pop sound in favor of rock.  It works, but in the process, some of the fun falls by the wayside and personality in itself still remains a drawback musically.

Best Song Ever” opens Midnight Memories, establishing a ‘fun’ tone from the onset.  Personally (and I wouldn’t be surprised if many possess this same sentiment), I found the music video to be more entertaining than the song itself.  Nonetheless, “Best Song Ever” has all the pieces to make it fit the teen-pop script, namely its addictive, anthemic chorus: “And we danced all night to the best song ever / we knew every line now I can’t remember / how it goes but I know that I won’t forget her / cause we danced all night to the best song ever…” Ultimately, it should satisfy the tweens, even if it’s not quite  “What Makes You Beautiful” or “Live While We’re Young”.

Following the childishness of “Best Song Ever”, the script grows more serious for the twenty-something band (Harry Styles is still 19, I’m aware).  A folk-pop element kicks on “Story of My Life”, which proves to be an incredibly mature step for the band.  Instead of opting for and urban, teen-pop sound, One Direction actually look toward’s Mumford and Sons or Phillip Phillips’ “Home” for inspiration.  The production is incredibly conservative during the verses, highlighting the band’s vocals.  The chorus naturally becomes more anthemic, and the lyrics shine: “The story of my life I take her home / I drive all night to keep her warm and time / is frozen…I spend her love until’s she’s broken inside / the story of my life.” While it lacks the carefree fun of “Best Song Ever”, it’s a nice progression for 1D ultimately.

Diana” follows a strong opening duo, but falls slightly short of the same glory.  The production signals the influence of the ‘80s rock/pop sound, something that remains throughout the course of Midnight Memories.  The main rub is that the verses come over as nonchalant and lacking personality.  The chorus atones, but “Diana” still feels a piece short.  Title track “Midnight Memories” is the more exciting track of the two, however the rock production cues seem way overdone.  Sure, one can sense that the goal on the title track is to beef up One Direction’s image and expand their base, but it doesn’t feel natural or legitimately authentic.  To the band’s credit, 1D do get some lyrical punches, namely two instances that find the band alluding to the s-word: “People talk shh we don’t listen” and “Same old shh but different day.” Ah, how even the censored profane signals growing up, LOL.

You & I” slows the tempo following the rocking title track.  The timbre shifts, with the use of acoustic guitar and touches of strings.  The reason why “You & I” is effective is because it manages to both fit the boy-band mold as well as incorporate rock cues without separating the two.  After all, few would label 1D as a legit ‘rock band’.  Another more ‘serious’ cut, “You & I”    follows the footsteps of “Story of My Life” to infuse more of a mature side to the band.  Here, the young men straddle the line just right without boring the listeners.

After striking gold on “You & I”, the band strikes out on “Don’t Forget Where You Belong”.  The main issue here is that the song feels ‘rushed’ and lacks pizazz.  The lyrics are quick and the performance once more on the verses is a bit dry, which doesn’t truly allow the listener to connect.  The vocal harmonies during the chorus as well as the chorus itself are highlights on an otherwise so-so number.  “Strong” has it’s moments without being, say, top echelon contextually.  “My hands, your hands / tied up like ships drifting / weightless, waves try to break it / I’d anything to save it” is just a sample of some of the clever lyrics the rear their head.  ‘Course the line “Think of how much love that’s been wasted / people always try to escape it / move on to stop their heartbreaking…” is none too shabby itself ;).

Happily” may please skeptics to an extent who find One Direction a bit too clean-cut musically.  Sure, they don’t overtly sing about sex, but they do have their suggestive moments such as “It’s four AM and I know that you’re with him / I wonder if he knows that I touched your skin / and if he feels my traces in your hair / sorry love but I don’t really care.”  They don’t stop there, making Directioners imagine the possibilities when they sing “…you know I wanna be the one who holds you when you sleep…”  Hmm, sounds more mature than “Live While We’re Young” right?

Right Now” is another one of those so-so numbers.  It opens predictably and really has little draw compared to the best.  Here it is as if One Direction take themselves too seriously and are afraid of being labeled as merely a boy band.  “Little Black Dress” is an improvement, but also sort of falls into the same pitfalls that “Midnight Memories” did.  An overt rock track, there is still the sense that this ‘rock thing’ is being pushed too hard as opposed to occurring naturally.   Authenticity once more becomes a question mark.  “Through the Dark” again plays ‘copycat’ of sorts, this time very similar to the better “Story of My Life”, again seeking inspiration from Mumford and Sons.  It works, but again, the band doesn’t sell it 100%.

The closing trio of cuts on the standard edition doesn’t reach the high watermark by standouts like “Best Song Ever”, “Story of My Life” or “You & I”.  The appearance of “Something Great”  proves there are one too many folk-driven cuts.  Still, the boys manage to sing some poetic lyrics  (“The script was written and I could not change a thing / I want to rip it all to shreds and start again”).

Little White Lies” again has a suggestiveness about it that’s innocent enough, but not completely innocent (“You say it’s getting late…and you don’t know if you can stay… your hands touching me, they’re touching me / and your eyes keep saying things…”).  It’s not the ‘second coming’, but it interesting in some regards.  “Better Than Words”  continues reference to physical touch (“Every time we touch / I’m all shook up / you make me wanna…”) as well as the emotional aspects of love (“I can’t explain your love, no… it’s better than words”). “Better Than Words proves to be an acceptable closer ultimately.

The deluxe edition sports four additional cuts in “Why We Don’t Go There”, “Does He Know”, “Alive” and “Half A Heart”.  Of the four, the best cut is “Half A Heart”, which could’ve easily been included on the standard edition.  The weakest cut is “Alive”, though it’s not too bad.

So, how does Midnight Memories stack up? Overall, it should be another fan that pleases One Direction fans.  It is admirable that One Direction take a more mature and less teen-pop oriented approach.   That said, I’m not sure that Midnight Memories is the perfect album for One Direction or even as ‘fun’ as Take Me Home.  With maturity you do have to let things go, but perhaps the still youthful band loses too much of their schmaltzy, fun side here.  All in all though, Midnight Memories keeps the über-popular boy band at the top.  Though one has to ask themselves, would it really matter if Midnight Memories were good or not, ultimately? That’s rhetorical by the way.

Favorites:“Best Song Ever”; “Story of My Life”; “You & I”; “Happily”; “Half A Heart”


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