‘Midnight Memories’: 1D wows with maturity


From the Beatles to ‘N Sync, the boy band phenomenon has come and gone several times in music history. And ever since finishing 3rd on The X Factor in 2010, English-Irish group One Direction (often dubbed 1D) has brought a new age of boy band. Up All Night being the best-selling debut album of 2012, 1D is undoubtedly the biggest boy band in a while. Incorporating a more rock sound and adult themes, their new album Midnight Memories shows the boys’ steady evolution into men.

The first single, “Best Song Ever,” was released this July, and when I heard it the day it was released, I was hyped for the rest of the album. The song is upbeat, and the vocals are significantly better than their previous albums. Many criticisms at the group point out the synthetic vocals, especially on choruses (“What Makes You Beautiful”). This album always has a clear lead singer, supported well by the others. The song describes finding an independent, confident girl to dance with “all night to the best song ever.” They are so enamored with her they “can’t remember how it goes,” knowing they “won’t forget her.” The song material is common; how many songs nowadays are about love and partying? But quirky lines (“her daddy was a dentist” but she kisses him despite knowing he “had a dirty mouth”) keep it entertaining enough. “Best Song Ever” is a well-executed song, exciting every time you listen.

The second single, “Story of My Life,” was released Oct. 28 and immediately became a favorite of mine. The song starts with a quiet acoustic guitar, which continues until the chorus where drums, strings and Harry Styles come in strong. The vocals are some of the best on the album. As in all boy bands, there is always a weak link vocally. But supposed weak links, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan lead much of the song, especially in the verses. Louis’s verse is wonderfully emotional, and Niall handles both his solos well. This contrasts with previous albums, where the two often had to be auto-tuned and supported heavily by other members. There is a problem with the lyrics though; I have no idea what the song means. Harry sings how he’ll “drive all night to keep her warm,” which I guess is sweet, but this makes “her broke inside.” Apparently nice deeds break women. Although the lyrics have no meaning, “Story of My Life” sounds so amazing I’ll forgive the lyrics.

“Diana” describes a sweet, but completely irrational proposition to a girl. This “Diana” is a shadow of her former self: she’s lonely, she’s crying and she’s “fallen so far.” But no worries. According to One Direction, they can save her (you). They can “light a fire inside those eyes” and “save your life.” This song panders to their teen-girl demographic, declaring that they can be your savior.  But it’s catchy. The bridge is my favorite part; Styles sounds good, especially with the gradual build up of the beat, efficiently transitioning into the chorus.. The other members are spot on as well. Although it’s catchy and sweet, the message of “Diana” leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

“Midnight Memories” shows just how rock 1D can be. Describing fun with a girl at a wild party, each verse utilizes a 80’s rock sound well with a guitar blaring between each line. Harry and Niall almost curse, moving away from the band’s formerly clean image (“People talk shhh, but we don’t listen”). The chorus incorporates a stomp-and-clap beat, also very 80’s. The boys comfortably show their rock and roll sides with Harry’s gravelly “Ow!” and Liam’s whisper-singing. The bridge, again, is my favorite part; Niall is spot on, and I find Harry’s shout at the end just charming. One small problem is when Liam Payne sings of a girl who is “5 foot something with the skinny jeans.” They literally described a majority of high school girls around the world; it’s more pandering. Overall, “Midnight Memories” is a great 80’s-rock-inspired anthem.

“You and I” is a solid ballad. Much of the album has an 80’s sound, and “You and I” reminds me of that era’s rock ballads, like Bryan Adams’s “Heaven.” I can see middle school dances blasting this for slow songs. It describes a couple with an incredibly strong relationship, vowing to “make it till the end” and declaring how they “don’t want to be like them” (whoever “them” is). Like “Heaven,” there is some religious imagery. One Direction sings how “not even the gods above can separate the two,” which is kind of cheesy (also like Bryan Adams) . Liam’s solo before the first chorus is short but sweet; supported by staggered strumming of an acoustic guitar, Zayn Malik’s high note is impressive, his falsetto just feeling right. “You and I” is a feel-good kind of ballad; it’s cheesy. But I don’t care.

“Don’t Forget Where You Belong” was one of my personal disappointments of the album. The song is the product of a collaboration between Niall and English band McFly. McFly’s lead singer Tom Fletcher wrote some of my favorite 1D songs, such as “I Want” and “I Would.” So I was excited to hear of another potential fav. This song, on the other hand, is cheesy in the worst way possible. The chorus is is the biggest problem; there is no distinct lead as the group repeats over and over “don’t forget where you belong.” And if that’s not bad enough, the band tells listeners “if you ever feel alone, don’t.” Yes; apparently it’s that easy to stop feeling sad and lonely. Because you can just stop. Apparently. Next, they explain that people are “never on your own.” False. That is just incorrect. Finally, they end the chorus with “and the proof is in this song.” No it is not, 1D. Your cheesy lyrics do not tell me why I’m not on my own. Each verse clearly explains why they are alone. Just because you’re “flicking through the pages of your memory” does not mean that you are not thousands of miles away from your family. You are still alone. The worst part is that the song did not have to be this bad. The verses, as off point as they are, sound pretty good, and I love the repetition of “I know” in the refrain. But overall, “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” is a mess of a song, ruined by a bad chorus.

“Strong” is a very important mark for the boy band. Midnight Memories is the first album where the boys had a hand in writing a majority of the songs (Louis impressively contributed to 12 songs). The fact that “Strong,” largely written by one of the members, has become one of the more successful songs demonstrates the boys’ capability. The song’s opening includes a weak metaphor however; Zayn compares “my hand [and] your hand” to “two ships drifting weightless” with “waves trying to break” them. The lyrics sound pretty, but, really, I have never seen two ships in the ocean tied together. Sounds like a safety hazard. The chorus though is strong. The boys sing that “I’m sorry if I say ‘I need you’ but I don’t care” because “I’m not scared of love.” More realistic than previous songs, “Strong” shows that, yes, men do have emotional needs. In the bridge, Zayn shows yet again how essential he is in the band’s lineup; he belts out his high notes perfectly. With strong vocals and production and pretty solid lyrics, “Strong” is one of the best on the album.

I feel conflicted whenever I listen to “Happily.” Opening with a banjo and “hey” in the background of each verse, the song gives off a folky vibe that I very much like. Lyrics are mature. Asking an ex to leave her boyfriend to “be with me so happily” despite “what people say when we’re together.” I cannot imagine 1D releasing such material in the past. There is a weak point in the song however: its fire metaphor. Fire is one of the most overused metaphors of songwriting. When it’s used right, it can describe man’s passions, loves, destruction. Used incorrectly, it just shows the songwriter had little idea what to do or understanding of the material (Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire”). Though it’s used better than in Keys’s lyrical mess of a song, the fire metaphor confuses me. One Direction repeats over and over “we’re on fire now.” Why are 1D and the girl on fire? Is it because they are so in love? Is it because their unfaithful relationship could burn them in the end? I don’t know. Either way the metaphor is used weakly. The chorus is loud and upbeat, but there is something a little off about it. I love how it explodes from relatively quiet verses, but I think they should have harmonized more because it’s sounds like the boys are just shouting in unison. With such a strong and happy sound, “Happily” is slightly held back by some writing and vocal problems.

“Right Now” is a slightly more than album filler. I understand 1D wants a more mature sound, but this song is just so depressing. Written in collaboration with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, the song describes the need to be with someone, especially in a long-distance relationship. The verses are nothing special; each describe how they “won’t be going home for so long” in the general kind of way. Zayn saves this song from being bad as he sings the chorus by himself. With OneRepublic-like effects, Zayn demonstrates clean vocals and a great falsetto. “Right Now” is a standout moment for Zayn, but the rest of the song is boring.

“Little Black Dress” is probably the dirtiest song on the album. The song describes finding a girl at a party and trying to get her to let you “take her home.” Always referring to a her as a “little black dress,” 1D has effectively pandered to every girl who owns a black dress. The song sounds very 80’s rock, with the guitar at the beginning and end and the well-done guitar solo. The vocals are good, but I don’t like that the entire song is 1D all together. The lyrics, other than kind of dirty, don’t really mean anything. Other than being really condescending. They repetitively sing how they “want to see the way you move for me baby.” Coupled with always addressing her by the clothing she wears, the boys come off as jerks. “Little Black Dress” sounds good, but I can’t get over how condescending it sounds.

“Through the Dark” is another folky song bordering on cheesy that I love. Liam opens with smooth vocals, describing how he “just wants to see you smile again.” The chorus is so overly clichéd; the boys sing how they’ll “carry you over fire and water for your love” and “find a way through the dark” of her life. The harmonies and background vocals are enjoyable, and there’s something about the cymbal mid-chorus I love. “Through the Dark” is so cheesy, but a romantic like me can’t resist its catchy and sweet lyrics.

“Something Great” is my least favorite song on the album. Co-written by Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, people seemed to be excited for it (As for me, I know little of the band other than “Chasing Cars”). But listening to the song, one word comes to mind: whiney. It’s so, so whiney. And it’s more than just the lyrics. As Harry and Zayn sing in the chorus how 1D “wants you here with me” so they “don’t have to keep imagining,” they sound like 5-year-olds about to cry after not getting candy. The worst part is Louis’s solo, singing how “you’re all I want.” This is the worst I’ve heard him, even including 2012’s Up All Night. His voice is just so high; he sounds like a chipmunk. The first time I heard it, I ripped my earbuds out in shock. “Something Great” is slow. It’s whiney. It’s just really bad.

“Little White Lies” describes the frustrations of a girl “playing games” and taking up One Direction’s “mind with your little white lies.” The song is well-written, declaring that even “if this room was burning” 1D “wouldn’t even notice” because they’re so preoccupied with her lies. The vocals are OK, but the best part of the song is in the production. Incorporating dubstep (or pop’s version of dubstep) the beat builds well in the bridge and breaks down in the chorus. If someone told me before that 1D tried to incorporate dubstep in a song, I would have laughed. But to my surprise, “Little White Lies” works out pretty OK.

“Better Than Words” is more impressive than one would think. The first time I heard it, I dismissed it as a clichéd mess. But someone pointed out to me something pretty cool: almost every verse incorporates works by previous artists. For example, Liam sings how “every time we touch I’m all shook up. You make me wanna… How deep is your love, God only knows.” That one verse just worked in Cascada’s “Every Time We Touch,” Elvis’s “All Shook Up,” Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna…,” the Bee Gees’s “How Deep is Your Love,” and The Beach Boys’s “God Only Knows.” Pretty cool, I guess. However, once you get past the song title combinations, the song is still kind of boring. Don’t misunderstand; it’s amazing that the writers could get the titles to sound natural, but the chorus is underwhelming and annoying. “Better Than Words,” once you get past the glitz and glam, is nothing amazing.

One Direction is so much different from the teens they were on The X Factor. Successfully incorporating a rock sound into their new album, 1D showed they have the ability to evolve past their pop beginnings. Midnight Memories will impress more than just the millions of teenage Directioners. And hopefully the age of the boy band will continue.