Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Midnight Memories: Track-by-Track

It kind of goes without saying that One Direction have their detractors. Vast battalions of teenage fans and the best-selling album of 2013 have failed to change the minds of 'real' music fans who see the group as an icon of the manufactured, Cowellian crap that clogs up the pop charts and steals the limelight away from all the 'proper' bands who actually deserve to be successful. Proper bands like...I don't know, The National?

Okay, I'm being condescending when perhaps I shouldn't. I strongly dislike The X Factor, and 1D are a product of that big, grim machine - surely I can't profess to like them while claiming to despise their creator?

Well, that's just it. I've never really listened to One Direction, and so I don't know whether or not I like them? Obviously I know What Makes You Beautiful, but that song is a couple of years old now, and it may not be representative of the current, world-conquering 1D that we now live with.

Now, I have very little time for arguments of authenticity. Sure, there are bands on my CD rack who worked their way up from nothing, playing broken guitars in empty rooms until their blood, sweat, and songwriting talent finally paid off and they got to record an album of original, heartfelt material that really says something about the world. But I also have albums by Destiny's Child and Busted; I've even got Phineas and Ferb-ulous: The Ultimate Album, featuring such hits as Gitchee Gitchee Goo and S.I.M.P. (Squirrels In My Pants).

My point is that, if a song is good, is doesn't matter who made it or how many songwriters/marketers were involved in its creation. I don't have any credibility left anyway; thanks to The Adventurous Adventures of One Direction, I can already name those five guys, so I may as well see if their music is any good.

Without any further ado, then, I'm going to listen to Midnight Memories by One Direction, and share my thoughts on each and every track. All fourteen of them. Here goes...
  1. Best Song Ever
    I think I heard this in Tesco's the other week. It opens with a nice burbling synth line, and the chorus is plenty catchy, so I'm cool with it. There's even a fun 'oh oh oh/yeah yeah yeah' bit that we can all sing along with. Wait, did they just namecheck Georgia Ruth? *checks the lyrics* Okay, false alarm. It was Georgia Rose.

  2. Story of My Life
    Not a cover of the Social Distortion song, as part of me was hoping. This actually sounds a bit like Mumford & Sons, which is not what I expected. See, he even mentioned his heart! This one is a bit bland, to be honest. It's lacking the killer, sticks-in-yer-head chorus of Best Song Ever, and the attempts to sound earnest just come as, well, boring. The quiet bit near the end works quite well, though, I'll admit.

  3. Diana
    Better, more upbeat. It's actually got a little bit of the Busted spunk to it, which is definitely a good thing. Reminds me of Falling For You, a little bit. Yes, I can get behind this one, as long as they promise it's not a tribute to Princess Diana. I'm reasonably certain it isn't, but you can't be too careful.

  4. Midnight Memories
    It's clear from the off that this is one of those 'here's what it's like to be a rock star' songs. That's never a good sign, really, because those songs either come off as boastful (if they're talking about the good stuff) or ungrateful (when they try to convince us that the high life is really hard). This one seems to be more of the first stripe, as the 1D boys get "straight off the plane to a new hotel" before heading to "a big house party with a crowded kitchen". No, it's not very good, although the chorus does sound a bit like Beverly Hills by Weezer, so...yeah.

  5. You & I
    Okay, I'm noticing a recurring theme here: all of these songs make me want to listen to Busted. This one has me pining for Without You, which served a similar purpose (acoustic power ballad) on their eponymous first album. Still, where that song was about feeling lonely and heartbroken, this song is far more hopeful - a 'we're going to be together forever' kind of thing. I quite like it, actually; it's not up to the standard of Busted's best weepies, but it's solid enough, and it's got a good false ending about two-thirds of the way in.

  6. Don't Forget Where You Belong
    I quite like the melody of the verses here, but it does put me uneasily in mind of Nickelback. I can definitely imagine Mr Avril Lavigne singing this song, and that makes it somewhat harder to enjoy. No such problems with the chorus though, which could quite easily have been cribbed from a B*Witched single. I keep expecting a tin whistle solo, but instead we get a drum lift - you know, the part where the instruments drop out and it's just the singing and the drumming, so that everyone can clap along and feel really awesome about life when the music comes back in again. Formulaic? Maybe, but it's fun.

  7. Strong
    I'm actually surprised by the variety of these songs. This has a faintly Spanish vibe, which is very cool (been breaking out your big sister's old Ricky Martin albums, have you boys?) I was expecting two or three brilliant pop singles (like Best Song Ever), followed by a dozen or so tracks of bland acoustic guitar-based filler, but it's all been surprisingly colourful so far.

  8. Happily
    See, and this one's got a Hank Marvin guitar line thing going on! This album doesn't 'alf keep you on your toes. I don't like the "we're on fire now" bit, though - it seems like it's solely there to give the fans yet another big singalong bit at the climax of the song. You can stop doing that, 1D. They'll be singing along anyway.

  9. Right Now
    This sounds like someone else is singing. Have they deployed a guest vocalist here? *performs Google search* Doesn't look like it, although I did discover that Don't Forget Where You Belong was co-written by Dougie from McFly. There's also a song later on called Something Great, which credits Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody as a writer. Bet that'll be one of the boring ones. As for Right Now, well, it wasn't much to write home about. It sounded like it was waiting for a big, clubby chorus that just never arrived.

  10. Little Black Dress
    Ooh, we're a rock band now are we 1D? They actually make a fairly convincing go of it, although the far more boy-bandy chorus does rather give the game away. Not bad, though; a bit throwaway, but then none of these songs have been especially deep.

  11. Through the Dark
    Okay, now they really sound like Mumford & Sons. Are they trying to cash in on the whole nu-folk thing? I wouldn't have thought that 1D would need to cash in on anything. The embarrassing thing (for Marcus Mumford, at least) is that it's as good a Mumford & Sons song as Mumford & Sons themselves have ever performed. Okay, that's maybe not true - I do quite like that Winter Winds song. Jeez, all the big confessions are coming out today, aren't they?

  12. Something Great
    Here's the Gary Lightbody track, then, and while the verse is exactly the sort of filler I mentioned earlier, the chorus actually works pretty well. Its got a nice kind of swoop to it, and together with the cool instrumental break, it probably deserves to be part of a better song. Oh, and what the hell is that "you're all I want" bit at the very end? Got lost on the way to your own song, did you?

  13. Little White Lies
    Wait, is this supposed to be a response to Little Black Dress? The yin to that song's yang? Because, if so, that's actually quite a clever move. Aside from the titles, there's not much to suggest that the two songs are connected, but hey, bloggers will have their unfounded theories. This one's pretty good - very processed, but that's not really a big problem with this sort of thing. It's kind of the point. I can't help but feel that it would be better if the beat underneath went twice as fast, though. It feels like it should be bouncier than it is.

  14. Better Than Words
    Not all that interesting for a closing track. They name a couple of good party songs (Crazy in Love and Dancing on the Ceiling) before ambling towards a pretty lifeless chorus. Might sound better after a few drinks and a night of partying, but that's not the sort of thing that 1D's target audience ought to be up to, really. I realise I've been pretty positive about Midnight Memories, and I have been genuinely enjoying it, but this a good opportunity to needle the very, very dull lyrics that have been omnipresent throughout these fourteen tracks. See, this one is about how Harry or Liam or whoever can't articulate how much he loves his girlfriend, because their love is 'better than words'. A dull cliché, and a pretty bad excuse at that. I wouldn't be satisfied by that if I were Taylor Swift.
So that was a One Direction album, and I just listened to it. On the whole, it was pretty good; Midnight Memories has more hits than misses, and it managed to avoid the pitfall into which I was expecting it to tumble, i.e. leaning too heavily on the singles and forgetting to include any decent album tracks. In fact, I can imagine most of these songs being hit singles, and for an anodyne, mass-produced pop record that was spawned by the evil mechanism that's slowly suffocating the music industry under humanity's own lack of imagination...well, that's what I call a success!

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