‘FOUR’ for You, One Direction

Courtesy of Columbia Records and Syco Music

Courtesy of Columbia Records and Syco Music

Let us pose a question: can a boy band ever be more than a boy band? Is there a way for a boy band to develop musically and still thrive? Is there hope for the boy bands of today to have the space to grow and cultivate their sound without losing their tremendous success? One Direction’s “FOUR” holds the answer: a definitive and resounding YES.

“FOUR” sees the boys of One Direction bringing a completely new sound, with what was previously a pure pop group now verging on indie pop rock territory. The boys’ progression is clear: a cursory sampling from each of their albums since their debut record, “Up All Night,” shows how they have evolved from formulaic upbeat pop songs to more rock-infused, hair band jams.

In recent interviews, the boys talk of how they’re feeling much more involved in the album-making process. This is apparent in their commitment to the genre shift in this album, as well as the huge strides all five of the boys have made both in songwriting talent and in vocal ability. With four years together and four albums under their belt, it’s time for this boy band to graduate; can we make ‘man band’ a thing?

The album opens with their first single, “Steal My Girl,” followed by “Ready to Run” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” These three songs alone are exemplary of the sound 1D is working toward, where classic rock meets boy band bangers. The first few seconds of “Steal My Girl” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” can easily be mistaken for Journey, but as the song builds, there it is: the big 1D sound ready to fill stadiums worldwide. Songs like (our personal favorite), “Girl Almighty,” as well as “Stockholm Syndrome” and bonus track “Change Your Ticket,” lean more toward the pop vibes one would expect from the band, but in no way is it more of the same.

Even with these more upbeat songs, their growth and maturation as a group is evident in the lyrics and song writing on this album. Take “No Control,” for instance; much like “Best Song Ever” off their third album “Midnight Memories,” it makes us want to get up and dance. However, as we find ourselves singing into our hairbrush, the words we’re singing along to actually make sense. Maybe this is because they actually let the boys write the songs they’re singing?

Like any One Direction album, “FOUR” wouldn’t be complete without some heart-wrenching ballads. “Fool’s Gold,” penned by all five of the boys, is the strongest ballad on the album: not only are the acoustic riffs dreamily melodic, but it showcases One Direction’s vocal talent. It’s the ballad 1D has been working toward their whole career and it shows. The band’s long time friend, Ed Sheeran, returned to write for 1D a fourth time with “18,” another ballad off the album. Much like other songs he has worked on, this song has an undeniable Ed Sheeran vibe, but the boys managed to make it their own.

The third ballad off the album, “Night Changes,” was selected as their next single in support of “FOUR”; however, this track is in no way strong enough for single material, neither is “Steal My Girl.”

Though “Steal My Girl” fits into the new sound perfectly and deserves praise within its own rite, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “No Control” would have been more appropriate for big time radio play and are overall just better as stand alone songs. This makes us skeptical of the thinking process behind these kinds of decisions.

This begs the question: what’s the point of making a mature and dynamic album for a wider range of audiences if the publicity surrounding the band never allows for any audience growth? These writers hold One Direction’s publicity team entirely responsible for the infantilized image that the public and the media have of the boys. By perpetuating the classic ‘boy band’ tropes (i.e. Zayn as the ‘bad boy’, Louis as the ‘class clown’), One Direction’s team restricts the potential success they could have with audiences outside of their existing fanbase.

Yes, milking the boy band cash cow for all it’s worth is obviously making the big bucks but is a short-sighted plan; boy bands aren’t exactly known for their longevity. The boys and their sound may be maturing but their team is unfortunately stuck in yesteryear, which might end up spelling trouble for the band.

With that being said, their growth into “FOUR” was as natural as our ability to embrace the change.

 

RECOMMENDED: “FOUR” transcends far past expectations for the world’s biggest boyband.