One Direction hints at newfound sophistication on ‘Four’

By Christina Yacono

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(Disney I ABC Television Group/Flickr)

(Disney I ABC Television Group/Flickr)

Moving away from the generic boy band genre, One Direction’s new album, “Four,” has shifted the group toward a more mature and cohesive sound without robbing it of its energetic vibe. Unlike 2013’s “Midnight Memories,” which featured more of an edgier, rock feel, this album slows things down and shows that the band is capable of writing more than just chart-topping pop hits.

One Direction has come a long way from its debut studio album in 2011, where each member’s voice was hardly recognizable beneath the group’s homogenous singing. Now, each member has a distinct vocal style, with Louis Tomlinson’s ranged tenor to Harry Style’s deep but smooth tone. Tomlinson and Niall Horan have also moved up from being mostly backup singers to getting just as much time in the spotlight as everyone else.

Out of the 16 songs on “Four,” 12 were co-written by at least one of the members, with Tomlinson and Liam Payne co-writing many of the songs. The album’s opener and lead single, “Steal Your Girl,” is a solid indicator of the rest of “Four” with its slow piano, rhythmic clapping and catchy chorus. Songs like “Ready to Run,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “Illusions” follow this same formula with a cheerful beat that is easy sing along to.

The second single from “Four,” released Nov. 17, is the more disappointing “Night Changes.” The song looks at how everyone has to take chances in their lives as they get older, with the line, “Does it ever drive you crazy/Just how fast the night changes?”

Not taking a chance lyrically, the song “18,” co-written with Ed Sheeran, tells a clichéd tale of young love. But still, the acoustic guitars and soft lulls of Zayn Malik and Styles are enough to keep everyone on their toes. Like “18,” “Fireproof” also perfectly pairs each member’s vocal style with a nice synth-pop rhythm.

“Girl Almighty” and “No Control” are the most upbeat, liveliest and slightly more suggestive songs on “Four.” Live guitar and drums give the song a joyously danceable, propulsive feeling. The similarly catchy “Stockholm Syndrome” is one of the more risqué songs on “Four,” with lyrics like, “Baby look what you’ve done to me/You’ve got me tied down.”

On the more slow side of things are songs such as “Fool’s Gold,” “Spaces” and “Once in a Lifetime.” On these tracks, One Direction croons to its listeners at an easygoing pace but with forceful energy and cathartic choruses.

“Clouds” is a track that, lyrically, sums up “Four” in a nutshell: “Another night stopped will it never end/We’re never coming back down/Yeah we’re looking down on the clouds.” The instrumentation, especially the song’s prominent guitar, combine a classic rock sound with a pop feel that hints at possible changes in direction for future releases.

Overall, “Four” ties the usual, tried-and-true lyrical themes of romantic interest with solid production. It is an album that gives the band’s younger audience the fun-spirited songs they crave, while also exhibiting a more sophisticated musical and lyrical style in its slower songs.

Christina Yacono can be reached at [email protected]