Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Track by Track: Midnight Memories

Year: 2013
Artist: One Direction
Label: Columbia, Syco

Here we are at One Direction's third studio album. These poor boys have been put through the ringer, I think the studio is trying to squeeze as much money out of them as they can before they just collapse from exhaustion. 

Besides the interviews, video appearances, music video shoots, and trying to have healthy relationships with friends, family and girlfriends, since their first album dropped in November 2011 Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson have released two follow up albums, "written" two books, released a documentary and a live concert DVD, went on two world tours and are gearing up for a third.

This is a band, the oldest member of which is a mere 21 years old.

Somebody oughta call PETA or something.

But the fact remains that we have a new album out and by George, I'm going to tell you about it.

Track 1: "Best Song Ever"

Far be it from me to say the title isn't accurate, this is one hella catchy song. The (maybe maybe not stolen from The Who) opening riff captures the joyous essence of their concerts and stage presence in a way that none of their albums had fully expressed up to this point. "Best Song Ever" is bottled fun.

Perhaps it's punching that "FUN WE'RE HAVING FUN" button a little too hard, but this is a boy band we're talking about. We have to grade on a curve regarding cheesiness. Anyway I'm not gonna delve too deep into it, this song has been out for eons, I think everybody who cares has already formed a pretty immobile opinion on it.

Best Line: "Said I had a dirty mouth / But she kissed me like she meant it"

Track 2: "Story Of My Life"

The first track on Midnight Memories sees 1D veering off into a radical new direction (maybe there's more than one, hm?), namely the folk rock stylings of the likes of Phillip Phillips and Mumford and Sons. The pounding bass drum, the strumming guitars, and the abstractly sad lyrics would all indicate their influence.

It's certainly predicated on the success of the aforementioned bands as well as The Lumineers and every other freaking band we have that sounds like they're from the nineteenth century. At least the studio executives that own their souls have decided to try something a little different than the bubblegum pop they've been dishing out thus far.

And much to my delight, Louis is turning more and more into their secret weapon. After being largely ignored on their first album, Up All Night, he has slowly been taking the spotlight (vocally) because, out of all the boys, his raspy idiosyncratic voice is the most suited for this new musical style. He also had a hand writing 11 out of the 18 songs on this album (as compared to Liam's 9, Harry's 4, Niall's 2, and Zayn's 1), so I feel completely justified maintaining him as my favourite.

Best Line: "I drive all night to keep her warm and time / Is frozen"

Track 3: "Diana"

This is classic fast-paced quasi-ballad boy band material. A swift catchy beat, some thrown out background riffs, airy instrumentation that floats along like a cloud. And it's the third song in a row that features a heavy Louis portion. Praise!

The most interesting thing about this track is that, for (to my knowledge) the first time in their entire career, there is a specific girl's name mentioned in one of their songs. Their songs usually celebrate the nonspecific traits their nonspecific object of love has (What Makes You Beautiful is notable for only requiring the girl to have hair and smile sometimes) so as to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

Perhaps this specificity is evidence of a less pandering mindset that is evidence of them branching out of the comfort zones, bolstered by the success of, well everything they've done this far. Or they just got bored. Who knows. It's pretty good nonetheless.

Best Line: "I speak a different language / But I still hear your call"

Track 4: "Midnight Memories"

This one is clearly more rock influenced. There's some AC/DC in there, some Bon Jovi, some Bachman Turner Overdrive (wow, really?). And there's definitely some sprinklings of the Beach Boys and the chorus is unavoidably close to "Pour Some Sugar On Me." I know that's not the most hardcore list of rock bands available, but this is light years away from, say "One Thing."

This song is certainly in a hurry to go places. At a swift two minutes 56 seconds, the choruses tumble over one another and the song is over before it gets a chance to breathe. It has a great shoutalong chorus but it is marred by a sense of the boys wanting to do something new and the studios appeasing them but trying to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Also they pretend to say the S-word, but then they stop in the middle oh how edgy. Sorry. I'm being a bitter grandpa. That trick is getting old though.

Best Line: "Now I'm at the age when I know what I need"

Track 5: "You & I"

The first weak spot on a pretty strong pop album. This first ballad on the album can't at all cover the ground of the likes of "Gotta Be You," "Moments," or even the admittedly not stellar "Little Things." Already on this album we've had a song with more emotional impact in "Story of My Life" and this just seems like a bland and dreary star-crossed lovers song.

Zayn's voice hits the highest note it ever has in the breakdown though, so there's that. That was pretty impressive. And I can see this song eating it up live, but in a recording it just isn't really doing it for me. This is the first song since "Best Song Ever" that had not a single one of the boys credited as composer and it reeks of studio tampering.

Best Line: "Did they ever hold each other tight / Like us?"

Track 6: "Don't Forget Where You Belong"

This song about life on the road is starting to cement in the sound of this album - a lot more rock influences, real instruments, and the increased involvement of the boys in deciding the lyrics they actually want to sing.

It's got a stomp clap beat and some great harmonies that show off the boys' incredible abilities to work together as a unit. Usually in the mastered tracks their voices are dampened in the mix, reducing the unique qualities of each of their singing styles, but this track really shows off how their voices interact with one another.

Best Line: "I'm flicking through the pages / I've written in my memory"

Track 7: "Strong"

Led by a light staccato guitar sting, the song opens thinly but increases in strength with every passing verse until the chorus explodes across the sky. I'd like to think that that progression mirrors the idea of gaining strength from somebody else.

Just like a lot of the songs on this first half so far, it's quite good, but nothing has really stood out as an obvious album best yet. But this song explores an idea that's been on my mind for a while. I've been involved with a lot of feminists and supporters of female independence, which is a cause I wholeheartedly support.

But some people take it too far, to the point of completely denying the possibility of being in love. In my mind, love is about developing yourself as an individual, being completely comfortable and capable of living on your own, and then to be willing to share your carefully cultivated self with somebody else who you trust. It's not a shame to be alone or single or whatever, but I think there's a part of us as humans that craves the feeling of belonging to someone or some group.

Not in the "I'm giving up my entire self to be with you" way but in the "I need to share this experience with somebody" way. Anyway, this song to me is about that shift from independence to a mutually supportive relationship and the hangups with that and I'm almost definitely reading way too much into it, but it's an idea that really intrigues me immensely.

Best Line: "Is it so wrong / That you make me strong?"

Track 8: "Happily"

This is it! Imediately on first listen, this song is the best on the first half of the album. It's always a joy when the Boys' Britishness comes through and this track feels almost like a pop rock Irish drinking song! Instead of feeling like another limp manifestation of the anachronistic folk rock trend of Phillips Phillips et al., this is a perfect synthesis of all the best (and least dreary) parts of those songs.

Also check out that downright filthy Best Line. Them boys are growing up, yo.

Best Line: "And if he feels my traces in your hair / Sorry love, but I don't really care"

Track 9: "Right Now"

Although this song isn't the most compelling lyrically or musically, it's perhaps the most intriguing vocal song the group has ever done. First things first, Louis actually gets to open a song, which up til now has only been a forgotten pipe dream. I'm getting so much Louis love off of this album.

At no point in the song are all the boys singing together. There are a couple harmonies and some cosmic backing vocals, but the track is mostly a showcase for their individual voices, which is something they really needed to avoid amoebeating into one personality-less blob of quiffs and tattoos.

They really get a chance to show off here, especially Zayn who busts out some incredible falsetto that could only be the result of some traumatic vocal cord surgery, it's way too good to be human.

Best Line: "Lights go down / And the night is calling to me"

Track 10: "Little Black Dress"

The most alt rock song in their arsenal so far, this song would be at home on an album by The Strokes, something I never thought I'd say about 1D. The song even has a freaking guitar solo! I hope it's one of the boys playing, cuz if it's just some studio musician that's no fun.

It probably is. Oh well, it's still an invigoratingly different if not particularly envelope pushing in terms of the genre it's trying to access. Another majorly brief song that feels like it just barely squeezed onto the album.

Best Line: "Little black dress / Just walked into the room"

Track 11: "Through the Dark"

OK this one is just Phillip Phillips, I'm sorry to say. Where the other ones have taken him as a strong influence, "Through the Dark" feels like the illegitimate love child of "Home" and "Gone, Gone, Gone" as sung by a pre-pubescent Marcus Mumford.

Lots of talk of natural elements (fire & water for your love), a smashing bass drum, and a downright medieval atmosphere (When listening, I can't help but feel I'm in a room made entirely of wood. Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.) mean this song isn't even bad but merely too derivative to exist on its own. 

Best Line: "And I remember you laughing / So let's just laugh again"

Track 12: "Something Great"

Harry Styles had a major hand on this song, so perhaps that's the reason it's not my favorite. The beat is plodding and the lyrics are a little too whiny for my tastes. Frankly, I'm a little bored by it. I don't have much to say because I really don't want to listen to it again.

Best Line: "Come on, jump out at me"

Track 13: "Little White Lies"

Although I was secretly hoping for a companion piece to "Little Black Dress," I like what I got instead.   Finally, a throwback to the One Direction of yore (you know, 365 days ago). With a soaring harmonic opening like "Save You Tonight," one of my favorite songs off of Up All Night and an exciting dubstep-influenced beat, "Little White Lies" gives the back half of Midnight Memories some much needed energy and fun.

It's basically early One Direction with more Louis and I'm totally down with that.

Best Line: "If this room was burning / I wouldn't even notice"

Track 14: "Better Than Words"

A more turned down song to close up the album, "Better Than Words" leaves us on a welcome mellow note. More alt rock, a jaunty whistling opening, and Louis rocking it out like he's never done before (I'm aware that there's other members of the band, but save for Niall, they've all had more than their share of limelight, it's my turn now).

For some reason, the lyrics in the verses are almost one hundred percent comprised of the names of other songs like "More Than A Feeling," "Someone Like You," "How Deep Is Your Love," and even "Hips Don't Lie" and two Beyoncé songs. It's clever though and it's a lot of fun and it works.

Best Line: "I don't know how else to sum it up / Cuz words ain't good enough"

Overall: Midnight Memories is a new experience for One Direction fans, and seeing them branch out is a gratifying experience. However, like most of the albums this season, it's just a little less than the band's previous efforts. It's a good listen and the boys' vocals are really improving after a couple years of experience. There's nothing particularly lyrically exciting and listening to the entire album all the way through can be a slog, but there are enough vivacious pop tunes that'll be in circulation on my iPod for a while yet to earn this album my appreciation.

Also Louis.


#14 "Something Great"
#13 "You & I"
#12 "Strong"
#11 "Little Black Dress"
#10 "Better Than Words"
#9 "Midnight Memories"
#8 "Through the Dark"
#7 "Right Now"
#6 "Story of My Life"
#5 "Best Song Ever"
#4 "Diana"
#3 "Little White Lies"
#2 "Don't Forget Where You Belong"
#1 "Happily"
Word Count: 2363

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