One Direction matures, retains sound on ‘Midnight Memories’

Courtesy of Columbia Records
Courtesy of Columbia Records

Watching child stars transition into adulthood and discovering how to incorporate more mature themes into their work is an interesting sight. This process occurs frequently with former Disney Channel stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, both of whom have stood in the spotlight lately. Most recently, however, audiences have witnessed such a transition with British boy band One Direction on its new album, “Midnight Memories.”

The band, made up of “X Factor” prodigies Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik and Liam Payne, marks a new age for boy bands. The group is a little late to be included among the ’90s craze of ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys, but it seems to attract the same wildly dedicated, screaming teenage girls as its predecessors. For example, when “Midnight” leaked early last week, many fans swore not to listen to the album until its true release.

When the fans do listen, though, they’ll find “Midnight” is exactly the sort of coming-of-age album One Direction needs. Often with these transitional albums, one of two things happens — more sexual rewrites of old songs or a totally new sound. Oddly enough, the band accomplishes both while still holding onto the pop fun of a traditional boy group.

Tracks like “Happily” feel almost like a nod to Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers. At first, it sounds like something divergent from the band’s usual style. However, the album ultimately holds onto the typical boy band sound, akin to what the Backstreet Boys would have put out in its late ’90s heyday.

There are also clichéd tracks, such as “You and I,” where the boys croon lines like “Not even the Gods above can separate the two of us,” and the cringe-worthy, “I see what it’s like for day and night/Never together/Cause they see things in a different light like us/Did they ever try like us.” The album often feels like a fight between what One Direction currently is — a traditional pop boy band — and what One Direction wants to be — a more adult-sounding group.

The band accomplishes the latter on tracks like “Little Black Dress.” The boys sound less like hopeless romantics and more like club-prowlers, singing over and over again, “I wanna see the way you move for me, baby/Wanna see the way you move,” and “It’s alright ‘cause I’ll take you home.”

Like most pop artists with devoted fan bases, such as Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters or Justin Bieber’s Beliebers, there comes a time when these idols can do no wrong. One Direction will not gain a wider fan base with “Midnight Memories.” Even as the boys approach more adult territory, they retain the sound of a group aimed at teenage girls. But it’s almost as if anything One Direction produces will be perfect in the eyes of fans. Directioners will find no fault in this album — it’s dancey, fun and full of the love songs that made the boys so adored in the first place.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 25 print edition. Addy Baird is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]

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