One Direction: Four

One Direction Four

2.5 out of 52.5 out of 52.5 out of 52.5 out of 52.5 out of 52.5

Comments Comments (0)

One Direction has long refused to adhere to the traditional tropes of boy bands: No matching outfits, coordinated dance moves, or squeaky-clean personas (Zayn even smokes cigarettes!). On their fourth album, Four, they continue to resist teen-pop trends and eschew the tempting specter of EDM in favor of the stadium-sized handclaps and over-earnest bombast of the 1980s. Dabbling in everything from Duran Duran-style new wave (“No Control”) to ornately orchestrated ballads reminiscent of Phil Collins (“Ready to Run”), Four positions One Direction as a unique throwback act, using the classic boy-band format as a means to inject new life into an even more antiquated subgenre.

Despite continuing to take on a larger songwriting role here, the group fails to imbue their songs with the goofy charm they exhibit in their interviews. This may be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen: Written by 1D members Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne with the help of four outside songwriters, lead single “Steal My Girl” is a lazy composition, with “sixteen/queen/dreams” rhyme schemes, an overused soporific piano loop, and a cloying copout of a “na-na-na” refrain. The Ed Sheeran-penned “18” is a stale attempt at romantic grandeur (“I have loved you since we were 18/Long before we both thought the same thing/To be loved, to be in love”) magnified by ringing church bells and echoing U2-style guitar. “The Girl Almighty” fares better, with its strumming acoustic guitars, slinky synth lines, and a subdued chorus that stands out from One Direction’s typical “shout it to the rafters” approach. And though it’s easy to imagine “Fireproof” reiterating the stale sonic signature of “18,” a breezy drum-machine beat lends a sense of levity to what could have been another misguided attempt at introspective posturing.

As One Direction wavers between lurching, sub-Coldplay balladry (“Fool’s Gold,” “Night Changes”) and moments of exuberant abandon worthy of a group of twentysomethings with the world at their feet (“Where Do Broken Hearts Go”), Four proves to be a document that simultaneously exemplifies the good and bad of boy-band pop (from its emphasis on lean, utilitarian songwriting and a willingness to reuse cheesy but satisfying vocals-and-drums refrains to its overblown instrumentation and overly simplistic emotional appeals), done up with a synth-heavy, reverb-happy ’80s sheen. The album’s irresistibly obvious choruses, hackneyed sentiments, and puppy-eyed earnestness can come off as endearing when the songwriting is clever enough, but every misstep is, despite the band’s efforts to assert more control over their music, a painful reminder of One Direction’s status as a manufactured, focus-grouped pop entity.

Release Date
November 17, 2014
Label
Columbia
Buy
Amazon