Until last week I had never heard of One Direction, but then of course they came to Sydney and the entire city lost its shit. Despite the fact that boy bands became extinct in the late 90s, the debut album from the former X-Factor contestants, Up All Night, is currently sitting at peak position on the ARIA album charts, and will probably be there for a while.
The album itself is a mixed bag. A good boy band song has to pack a punch – it should have a pounding hook, dramatic production, and ideally should include a killer call and response section a la ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’. But Up All Night isn’t really a boy band album – it’s more a collection of mid-tempo high school love songs. While at times these can be mind-numbingly repetitive, they can also be insanely catchy. For instance, while most of the album is made up of inoffensive soft-rock, every now and then the boys break out into a year-six disco style dance track. The first few seconds of ‘Everything About You’ sounds like it’s leading into unbearable club techno, but then glides into gloriously cheesy Eurodance. By far the best song on the album is the seventh track, ‘Tell Me a Lie’ (co-written by none other than fellow talent show alumni, Kelly Clarkson) which features an uber funky guitar lick and one of Clarkson’s patented powerhouse-pop choruses. These are the songs where things seem to work best – when they crank up the electric guitar, forget about the barbershop harmonies, and smash out a fist-pumping pop anthem.
The lyrics are predictably sugary (I’m only thinking ‘bout this girl I’m seeing / I hope she’ll wanna kiss me back) but every now and then something weird creeps in, e.g. ‘If I look inside your brain / I would find lots of things.’ Similarly, the messages behind some of these songs are kind of bizarre, as in the lead single ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ which can best be summarised as ‘you think you’re ugly, and that’s why I think you’re not ugly.’ But you know, small matters.
As far as bubblegum pop goes, Up All Night is a pretty solid offering. Its only problem is that it’s probably not that memorable. One Direction seems to me like 2012’s version of the Jonas Brothers: huge for about ten minutes, and then gone forever. In the meantime though, get used to hearing them on the radio – I think they’re kind of popular.