The names Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik are no strangers to anyone nowadays; they make up the famous pop band One Direction. With a loyal following of “directioners” and three successful studio albums, which all debuted at number one in the U.S. Billboard 200, the band had big shoes to fill in its latest studio album “Four,” released in the United States on Nov. 17.
The album immediately produces a dissatisfactory sense of deja vu — it has been done multiple times before. Full of formulaic pop sounds and hollow lyrics, the album is a catchy yet unsophisticated series of songs that feeds fans exactly what they’ve come to expect.
The first single from the album, “Steal My Girl,” is also the first of the 12 tracks. The music video for this song, released on Sept. 29, broke the VEVO record for most views in 24 hours. The song sticks to a happy-go-lucky pop vibe and superficial lyrics that fail to be anything impressive or memorable. Describing a love conquest that he has had since age 16, the speaker tells the tale of his woes because everybody “wanna steal [his] girl.” This and other truly “tragic” topics are the subjects of the songs found on this album. The repetitive pop-synth sounds are target material for pop radio but nothing impressive for a more serious music connoisseur.
Following this first track is “Ready to Run,” a fast-paced song that sounds just like every other song the band has produced. The boys attempt to relate to the uncertainties of teenage life as they discuss the “future that [they] can’t foresee,” which is ironic because of their success as a band. The song progresses with some generic, heard-before lines thrown in, such as “wherever you are is the place I belong.”
The most impressive song on the album is the high-school love story “18,” a typical heartthrob romance story that is sure to please infatuated younger generations. A melodic bridge into the chorus is pleasing to the ears, and the “Prince Charming-esque” feel is exactly what the teenage audience desires to hear. While the song is not the most original one on the album, it definitely has the most potential of becoming another quick hit for the band.
“Fool’s Gold” brings in some acoustic guitar rhythm and more complex lyrics, stringing along a more impressive, in-depth metaphor that compares a bird on a wire to trying to get a girl to fall in love with the singer. While his love is unrequited, he refuses to give up on her, and the almost universally relatable love story described pulls at the heartstrings of anyone listening, although it can be safely assumed that the lyrics are not inspired by the hearts of the writers.
“Nobody loves you, baby, the way I do,” the band sings in “Fireproof,” continuing the familiar (and exhausted) theme of invincible love with the perfectly imperfect girl.
The techno-pop beat of “Stockholm Syndrome” is a bit atypical of the band’s usual melodies, but yet again, it contains hackneyed, unimaginative lyrics that are almost identical to those found in other songs on the album: “But now together we’re alone/And there’s no other place I’d ever wanna go.”
The majority of the songs weave together the same series of components to produce a similar sound and indistinguishable structure: a guitar riff in the beginning, a few meaningless lyrics here and there, a chorus that is sure to stick in the listener’s head, a bridge that rarely ever stretches the band’s musical boundaries and a happy ending.
Each song lacks originality, but playing it safe does have it perks. One Direction has constructed its image around a heartthrob group of young men that, by avoiding specifics and producing uncomplicated, uplifting music, is able to capture the hearts of millions of loyal listeners simply because of this catchy oversimplification.
One Direction brings listeners yet another fun, fast-paced album full of likeable songs and cute lyrics, but it still has not seen any noteworthy thematic or musical growth among a maturing group of men in their early 20s. Any listeners in search of a pop album to brighten up the cold winter months will be pleased to dance along to “Four,” but for those looking for more complex musical compositions whose inspirational messages are not as oversimplified, One Direction’s fourth studio album is probably not for you.