One Direction released their highly anticipated fourth album, FOUR, on Monday (Nov. 17). The album is the follow up to 2013’s Midnight Memories, which topped the charts in countries around the world.
After coming in third place on “The X Factor” U.K. in 2010, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson have made quite the impact on pop music around the world. This time around though they aren’t so pop anymore.
One thing is clear right away from the moment you listen to this album – it’s hard to believe these are the same boys that released the smash hit “What Makes You Beautiful” just a few years ago. That song would stick out like a sore thumb if it was placed on this album that’s how different their sound is on FOUR. And if you haven’t heard any other song by One Direction it might be time to give them another shot with this album.
Much like with Midnight Memories, the members of the band helped write many of the songs on the album with band members Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson doing the most along with their hit-makers that include Julian Bunetta, Jamie Scott, and John Ryan. It’s clear the band has gotten better with songwriting because the lyrics seem more meaningful in a lot of the songs. At least one member of the band contributed to all but two tracks on this album.
It’s not just the songwriting that is better on this album, the vocals have improved quite a lot as well. Payne and Malik continue to be the standout vocalists in the group and they continue to get better providing amazingly smooth and effortless solos throughout the album. It’s Malik’s high notes that make the lead single “Steal My Girl” tolerable. Elsewhere, Styles sounds much more natural with this rock sound than he ever did before on the bubblegum pop music they’ve done in the past. Horan and Tomlinson have also improved quite a lot looking back on the previous albums, Tomlinson particularly stands out in “No Control.”
FOUR takes on a pop/rock sound that finds the boys definitely changing their sound and growing up. Here’s the breakdown track-by-track.
1.) “Steal My Girl”
The lead single from the album is by far my least favorite track on the album. With that said, the instrumentals sound great and Zayn Malik has some amazing notes. But overall, this song would’ve been better off being left off the release completely because it simply does not give the album justice and doesn’t fit with the sound of the rest of the album. Another example of don’t judge the album based on the single. It is kind of catchy though.
2.) “Ready To Run”
If the boys wanted to follow up on the massive success of Midnight Memories’ “Story of My Life” properly, this song would’ve been a great lead single for this album. This song goes away from the sound of “Steal My Girl” and settles effortlessly into that Mumford & Sons sound. Starting off slowly it builds up into a fun, fast-paced chorus that is so easy to sing along to.
3.) “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”
This song sounds like it came directly from the 1980’s and that certainly is not a bad thing. It will be so much fun to jam out to this song, if they play it, on the On The Road Again Tour in 2015 with its stadium ready guitars and drums throughout. It’s definitely a personal favorite on this album, it’s such a great rock song and has such a cool sound.
It is beyond obvious that this song was written by Ed Sheeran (with Passenger also contributing). Much like most of the previous tracks Sheeran has written for One Direction, it sounds so much like an Ed Sheeran song it’s hard to even picture it’s One Direction. The song is a nice mid-tempo love song though that will likely have those cell phone flashlights out swaying in concerts.
5.) “Girl Almighty”
The pace picks back up on “Girl Almighty” with a cool beat and catchy “ooh-ooh”’s throughout. It’s almost like a return to previous One Direction tracks and could be fun to jump around and listen to. This is also one of only two tracks on the album that wasn’t written with the help of a member of the band (the other being the Ed Sheeran & Passenger penned “18”).
6.) “Fool’s Gold”
The rock sound on FOUR is present on “Fools Gold” which finds the lads singing about a relationship with a heartbreaker but they don’t regret falling for them. The lyrics of the chorus express that perfectly saying “And, yeah, I let you use me from the day that we first met, but I’m not done yet, falling for ya, Fool’s Gold. I knew that you turned it on for everyone you met, but I don’t regret, falling for ya, Fool’s Gold.”
7.) “Night Changes”
The second single from FOUR is a lot better than the lead single from the album. Not only are the lyrics better, but the vocals are also great. You should check them out performing it acoustically or on BBC Children in Need. It sounds amazing. Special shout out to Liam Payne for amazing backing vocals and his voice in general.
8.) “No Control”
“No Control” is a big change from “Night Changes” but the flow works. This song is a big party and again would fit right in at a stadium concert. As mentioned above, Louis Tomlinson stands out in this song nailing the fast-paced, upbeat chorus of this jam. Love the lyrics, “Waking up beside you, I’m a loaded gun, I can’t contain this anymore, I’m all yours I got No Control.”
One Direction broke records when they released “Fireproof” as a free download for 24 hours as their first offering from this album. And again, this song would’ve made a much better lead single than “Steal My Girl.” All the vocals on this song are on point with some great harmonies and a beat that make this song a great one and one of my personal favorites.
Although this song is likely more about a relationship break up that has been coming for a while, some have also suggested it to be about the band with a lyric such as, “Who’s going to be the first to say goodbye?” but it’s more likely it’s about the failing relationship. But regardless of the song’s story, the vocals are once again on point here.
11.) “Stockholm Syndrome”
This might be one of the more honest and personal songs One Direction have recorded. It has a brief allusion of bondage with lyrics such as “Baby look what you’ve done to me, you’ve got me tied down.” Bonus track “Illusion” does that slightly too. And it’s great. Co-written by Harry Styles and 1D’s hit makers, this song probably has a great story behind it. It’s a good one.
And closing out the standard edition of the album we have “Clouds.” It closes the album perfectly with its great instrumentals (including some awesome guitar) and, once again, great vocals. It has a huge, epic sound to it that would sound great live in a stadium.
A deluxe of the album also features four additional tracks, “Change Your Ticket,” “Illusion,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Act My Age.” All of those seem very random and don’t seem to match the sound of this album – especially “Act My Age,” but I like it. Sometimes random can be good.
Listen, if you haven’t given One Direction a chance since lately, it’s time to stop pretending they’re the same bubblegum pop lads that made “What Makes You Beautiful” all those years ago – you should give them another chance and give this album a shot. FOUR is the sound of a band finally finding their sound and a sound where each band member can shine individually. It is a focused album that has a proper flow to it and a sign of growth for the band. Given that this is their fourth album you would think One Direction might be reaching their end, but with a stadium tour set for 2015 they show no signs of slowing down. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.