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ATP! Album Review: One Direction - Midnight Memories

The problem with being formed on a singing competition and immediately gaining worldwide success with the boy band format is that it comes with an unfortunate stigma. The “Of course They’re Successful, They Had A Lot Of Help And They’re All Good Looking, But Can’t Possibly Be Talented” one. No matter how many No. 1’s they get, or how many records they break, One Direction can’t seem to shake the doubt of their talent by naysayers, and those who think it’s cool to hate something based on obvious popularity and genre. (No one likes a music snob, thank you very much.) However, that is all about to change.

The quintet is looking to prove critics wrong with their third studio release, Midnight Memories, dishing out 18 - if you’re rocking out to the deluxe edition like we are - songs that drop the boy band facade and shoot straight for just about all other genres. With obvious indie, 80s rock and even some dubstep influences, the UK boy band has brought their most musically diverse release and what is hands down their best release yet.

Opening with their three singles, as per their previous two albums, 1D eases listeners in with something familiar and not far off what listeners are accustomed to from the UK outfit, but that all changes with the arena ready title track. As what we like to refer to as their ‘I Love Rock ‘N Roll’ moment, ‘Midnight Memories’ is an obvious choice for an upcoming setlist, inducing the need to take part in the classic rock stomp, stomp, clap. It is also the closest to cursing we hear the fivesome get, and excuse us if that’s a little thrilling. This is pop with a bite to it, and it is also the beginning of the end of the sugar-coated boy band we’ve grown to know-- and love, for some of us.

One of the many highlights on this gem of an album, is the 8th track entitled 'Happily.' Infused with folky stomps, group “Hey’s!” and plucky guitar, the band calls upon their inner indie-folk band for the first time, but most certainly not the last. (Think The Lumineers or Mumford and Sons Lite.) It easily fits into the category of Songs The Need To Be Singles, and we will take great personal offense if that doesn’t happen. Shortly following the jaunty tune, listeners are hit by the drastically different ‘Little Black Dress,’ a song only outdone in 80s rock inspiration by ‘Does He Know?’, and only because it actually samples Rick Springfield’s ‘Jesse’s Girl.’ New and old listeners alike will find themselves checking if they’re still listening to the boy band as it launches into a guitar solo begging for some big 80s hair band hair. And pyrotechnics. What is a good guitar solo live without flames, anyhow?

Another shocker comes in the form of ‘Little White Lies.’ Starting out like a typical One Direction radio friendly single, it quickly evolves into something more as it drops in dubstep elements that, at one point, sounds like it’s a remix of an original as opposed to the original itself. We can already imagine the live performance, and honestly, if this song doesn’t get you moving we may need to check you for a pulse. ‘Little White Lies’ is not only a standout, but this reviewer’s personal favorite.

Midnight Memories holds listeners attention to the end, boasting tracks such as ‘Something Great,’ which reminds us more of something from Snow Patrol-- which isn’t particularly shocking given frontman Gary Lightbody helped co-write it-- and ‘Better Than Words,’ which is written primarily written with titles of songs. Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a major feat, but given the song is expressing that love is better than words and that “everyone tries to say what it feels like,” it all suddenly makes sense in an AHA! moment that is not only very musically delicious, but also quite clever.

Now, a common discussion amongst the internet (read: those who got their hands on the songs early thanks to an iTunes glitch) is that the album doesn’t seem to have a one coherent theme. This, however, isn’t a downfall, but rather a strength. It showcases that they can, and probably will, tackle more than just candy-coated pop. Just compare Midnight Memories to their first release, Up All Night, and the growth is so apparent, it’s practically a slap in the face. Not only have they found their sound, but they’ve grown in writing chops too. With one or more members sharing writing credits for 15 of the 18 tracks with musical hard hitters such as OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and the aforementioned Lightbody, these boys didn’t come looking to just revamp their previous releases, they came for blood. Say what you will about One Direction, this is how to successfully grow as an artist, and if there were anytime to give them a chance, this is it.

Should you happen to find a new appreciation for them, don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with us. (Though we do reserve the right to say, “We told you so.”)

4.5/5

Victoria Patneaude

Midnight Memories is out now via Syco/Columbia Records.