After a glistening and highly successful five years of ultra fame, One Direction are now officially on hiatus. 2015 was full of tabloid-worthy escapades for the British-Irish boyband. Most notably Louis Tomlinson became a baby daddy, and token brooder Zayn Malik ditched the gang for good. Their hotly anticipated fifth album Made in the A.M. is here to finish the year off, interpreted by their adoring fan base as a goodbye-for-now.
The album continues with the conscious stride away from bubblegum pop established with 2014’s Four. Under the careful watch of longtime Producer Julian Bunetta, the album imitates folk rock greats such as Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon. It’s even evoked a couple, ever-blasphemous Beatles comparisons from publications like Rolling Stone due to its more whimsical numbers. One Direction has finally attained the soul sound that it had been hinted at in their previous work; however, despite the interesting homages paid to the classics, Made in the A.M. can’t help but sound like the glossy commodity it is. The band remains not so much musically impressive as it is socioeconomically, and it proves that the now-foursome have not quite escaped Simon Cowell’s million-dollar pop machine.
The singles “Drag Me Down” and “Perfect” are typical 1D—if a little more biting and mischievous—with the latter making references to post-adolescent ‘badness’ like, “Causing trouble up in hotel rooms.” Many songs like the mid-album “Long Way Down,” are pleasant, but otherwise empty and sonically reminiscent of early 2000s Britpop. There are clean, pretty guitar loops, and sentimental gushes about falling love, described with picture-book clear imagery: “We had a mountain, but took it for granted / we had a spaceship, but we couldn’t land it.”
Things do get more interesting during the album’s second half. “Never Enough” experiments with acapella doo-wops and snaps—a dead ringer for the Tokens classic, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Then there’s Harry Styles’ “Olivia.” Initially, the boys skip through assonance playfully, as horns and strings build the little ditty to a Beatles-level of soaring in the bridge. At that point, Styles coos about summertime and butterflies and his imagination, sounding uncannily similar to Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imaginations” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1974). “What a Feeling” combines echo-y harmonies and moody guitar riffs to evoke a kind of polished, pop version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” while the Graceland-era Paul Simon influence is especially notable in the hopeful, strolling song, “Walking in the Wind.”
The final track “A.M.” is the perfect outro, both for the album, and for the band. It’s a gentle coming-of-age meditation on late nights of recording, touring and youthful camaraderie. “A.M.” suggests that having big dreams for the future doesn’t mean forgetting about the past. It’s a benign conclusion for One Direction, especially pleasant in that, although a bit weary, it doesn’t sound bitter. One can only hope that the boys find their voices in solo projects, emerging from the whole affair as adults.
“What A Feeling,” “History,” & “Olivia”
“If you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about / Baby, I’m perfect.”
The Verve, Coldplay, and a more mature One Direction