Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In What Direction Will One Direction Go?

I spend a lot of time thinking about One Direction. Too much, perhaps, if you talk to some people. Due to the fact that their second album--the winkingly-titled Take Me Home--was released a couple weeks ago, and the influx of promotion they've done for this album, I've spent a bit more time than usual obsessing over My Boys. I was extremely curious about how One Direction would follow up their mega successful debut album and reassert themselves as the best boyband in the world, but, if anything, Take Me Home left me with more far more questions than answers.

First, let's get this out of the way: Take Me Home isn't as good as Up All Night. Not by a long shot. To be fair, though, this was a nearly insurmountable task from day one. While Up All Night isn't an album I would openly recommend to people who aren't already pop music fans (and even with some fans I'd be leery), it certainly fulfilled any hopes and wishes I had for the album after hearing "What Makes You Beautiful." Aside from a couple of dud ballads (I'm looking at you "More Than This" and "Moments"), Up All Night was filled with top-notch tunes, brimming with exuberance, personality and catchy hooks galore. The music was nothing but pure, instantaneous joy, the group a happy respite from scores of popstars who appear to find the whole exercise a bore until they can make something "real."

Take Me Home isn't a bad album. Far from it, actually. While it lacks a lot of the dazzle and panache of Up All Night, a few of the tracks are immediate stand-outs. "I Would," written by three members of fellow British "boyband" (they play guitars, hence the quotes, but have a good sense of humor) McFly, is the album's highlight. Via clever wordplay, "I Would" is a track that matches the exaltation of the first album while simultaneously pushing them in a more mature direction. "She's Not Afraid" also pushes into my favorite subgenre of 2012: the upbeat pop track superficially masking deep melancholy. "She's not afraid of all the attention/She's not afraid of running wild/How come she's so afraid of falling in love?" the boys, in full-on crisis mode, wail over the chorus. Future third single "Kiss You" and "C'mon C'mon" are also great tracks, but I'm a bit more hesitant in my praise for them, mainly because of how generic they sound. Sure, they are catchy and bouncy, but could they really come up with nothing other than repeating "Yeah!" in the chorus of both songs?

This a problem that plagues a lot of Take Me Home. While they never reach the generic depths of The Saturdays' recent output or Rita "I'm Not Rihanna!" Ora, the songs are a lot less personality driven this go-around. "Rock Me," which, from the beginning sounds like a "We Will Rock You" ripoff, was written and produced by Dr. Luke, but you probably wouldn't be wrong in assuming that it only fell in One Direction's lap after Maroon 5 and Katy Perry turned it down. The ballads are even more dire, mediocre at their best, snoozeworthy at their worst, and full of tiresome declarations of love to nonexistent girls. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Take Me Home is that you can hear the boys trying to mature their sound, whether through acoustic songs or darker, heavier stylization, but none of it really quite comes together.

All of this really leads to one more question: where will the third album take the boys? Album three is the typical time when teen popstars must begin their transition into adulthood. Miley Cyrus transitioned too suddenly and alienated her fan base, no matter how brilliant the material actually was. The Biebz did it well this year while scoring the biggest hits of his career. One fears that album three will be more Ed Sheeran crap like "Little Things" which has now become their second #1 in the UK. Sheeran is not terrible in and of himself--I think "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" is a nice tune--but what he represents makes my skin crawl: "real" music about "real" things like relationships and heartbreak, drowning in acoustic guitar soul and downbeatness as if that's the only way to make "authentic" music. "Little Things" is such utter shit, I can't believe that it not only hit #1 but that anyone on the planet thought this meandering fart of a tune that goes absolutely nowhere musically (seriously, does anyone know what dynamics are or does singing everything at the same middle-of-the-road dynamic make the song more authentic?) would be a great single choice. My fourth biggest fear in life now--after spiders, being sold into illegal slavery and being forced to move back in with my parents--is that One Direction will ditch their pop sound completely and become slaves to this awful acoustic sound. The group already has two boys for this: Harry is already practically dating Ed Sheeran at this point and Niall always has a guitar with him. Liam is a wild card; he could really go either way. Possibly in favor of a more poppy sound, howevver, we have Louis, who is too sassy for acoustic crap but I seem to recall him saying his favorite song on Up All Night was one of the crap ballads, and Zayn, who likes (ugh) Chris Brown and whose voice is more suited towards pop/R&B. Take Me Home tries to accommodate everyone but struggles to find a meaningful synthesis of all the boys' musical influences, preferences and stylings. Album three will have to try much harder in this regard. But, who knows. Maybe in two years the acoustic stuff will have evolved, to use Taylor Swift as an example, from "Teardrops on My Guitar" to "Back to December." Until then, the boys can take me home any day of the week. Oh, come on, you knew that pun was coming at some point.