What makes One Direction beautiful? Well, to start off: them. It’s undeniable that Zayn, Niall, Harry, Liam and Louis have evolved into dapper young Brits, copious amounts of tattoos and all. Their look is definitively edgy (Harry’s new tresses are a point of debate for Directioners worldwide), and on their newest record, Four, they strive to emulate this newfound badass energy.
But what really makes them beautiful is their vivacity — something that was introduced to the world on “What Makes You Beautiful” but has weaned ever since. 1D’s newest installment in their let’s-leave-our-lyrics-generic-to-make-girls-think-our-songs-are-about-only-them empire tries to let life and edginess drive it, simultaneously. The result is an inconsistent, lovelorn explosion of arena ballads and acoustic melodies alike, both in desperate need of a little more oomph.
Their first single, “Steal My Girl,” is one of the livelier ones — it’s an interesting, piano-laced jam à la “Faithfully” by Journey, with a huge drop at the chorus and a catchy hook. Similar to “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” on the sheer epicness scale, it sounds like it could be blasted in Ford Field, which is always a good thing. But it also sounds like *NSYNC could’ve done just as an effective job with the song, and that’s not good; Queen Elizabeth’s quintet still needs to hone its own style. Regardless, the boys needed these two tunes to beef up the album.
They take a country turn on “Ready to Run,” which actually works for them, but it falls into the hole of familiarity, safety and boredom. “Fools Gold” and “Spaces” follow suit, blending in with all other acoustic ghosts of years and albums past. There’s simply nothing unique about these ballads anymore; the five Brits scored a hit with one of them, “Story of My Life,” a few years ago, but it’s time to move on now. They say they’re “ready to run,” but are they really?
The band gains a bit of momentum on songs like “Girl Almighty,” a wake-up call for the album, to be sure. It’s got an inventive sound, yearning lyrics and pop-punk pacing — a little dose of electro-shock therapy like this can never hurt the listener.
But, alas, Ed Sheeran creeps in with his unplugged guitar, narcotics and a night light, and the listener has no choice but to sleep again. Co-penned by Sheeran, “18” is blissfully unoriginal, slow and just too freaking innocent. “Night Changes” takes the same turn, but it has a few drums to give it at least one direction (pun intended but not proudly).
God save the Queen! Finally, the listener rejoices with “No Control,” a sexy, pop-punk number that sounds like pre-2010 All-American Rejects. The band needed the grit, but it’s unfortunate that it took the whole album to get there. And on the kitschy “Fireproof,” peaceful drums and sweet falsetto in the chorus help it power through.
“Stockholm Syndrome” radiates with its nifty metaphor, sultry guitars and an incredible beat in the chorus, it’s undoubtedly the best song on Four. It sounds like a hit, like One Direction of the future — slightly electronic, modern, rock-y and just plain old cool. The album exits with a bang; “Clouds” is another rock-infused, layered arena anthem with the best kind of chaotic energy. Finally they gave us something to work with.
Four is a triumphant attempt, an album with about as much edge as Harry’s butterfly tattoo — a tattoo at least, so they get street cred for that — but the subject matter is still a bit safe. They’re almost there — almost grown up, musically. Though boring at points, Four is a tiny step in the right direction.