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Friday, November 22, 2013

Track-by-Track: One Direction - Midnight Memories

I've gone on record more than once declaring my appreciation for the power-pop of One Direction, even though it might not be "cool" for someone of my age and gender. In addition to watching them form on X-Factor, I'm just a huge fan of well-delivered, uber-catchy pop/rock. And these guys have delivered with remarkable consistency. Their newest album marks a big shift in sound for them. The bombastic hooks are still there, but somewhere along the line the guys have become a surprisingly credible rock vocal group. I can't recall any other "boyband" release that sounds like this, which is pretty awesome. That said, like their debut album, this one is in dire need of some reshuffling (I just can't deal with Story Of My Life completely stealing the energy as the second track). Here's my track by track review with a twist: below is how I would have sequenced the album, and I think it plays all the better for it.

1. Alive - Previously relegated to a bonus track on the ultimate edition, I like this much better as a statement of intent to open the album. Not only is it a big, brash rock song, but its carpe diem theme seems to fit the album as a whole. Wherever this is on the running order, though, it's a total standout with its hair metal riffs and chorus turned up to eleven. 10/10

2. Best Song Ever - It's amazing how much bigger this sounds coming as the second track. Though it's been with us for awhile, I'd still say this will probably go down as being the best, most memorable song on here. 10/10

3. Diana - Another slab of arena-sized stadium rock, with verses reminiscent of the 80's and a chorus that burrows into your brain straightaway. Continues the rockier direction that I think the first half of the album should stick with. 10/10

4. Little White Lies - Of all the tracks, this sounds the most like it would have fit in on the last album. That's a very good thing, as I think the last album will probably go down as the band's high point. The sound is an epically huge mash-up of guitars and electronics, with a sugary chorus. 10/10

5. Little Black Dress - Yeah, so I've got the two "little" song titles back to back. But honestly, if they're both on the album anyway, it's the contrast kinda cool to have one after another? This continues the rock streak, so much so that I probably wouldn't have even guessed this was One Direction if I didn't know. It sounds more like the Fratellis or something. 9/10

6. Don't Forget Where You Belong - The boys cowrote this with the guys in Mcfly, which were responsible for one of my favorite 1D songs (I Would) and one of my least (I Want). This is completely different from both, and one of the album highlights. A lighters-in-the-air singalong ballad about life on the road, this has a killer chorus. Should be a single, but probably won't. 10/10

7. Midnight Memories - One of the harder-edged tracks on here, the title song sounds a lot like Pour Some Sugar On Me with its stomping guitar and electric edge. Not the best example of their newfound rock sensibilities, but it's certainly a new direction for them (though it does sound a bit like an edgier Rock Me from their last album). 9/10

8. You And I - You And I - The only other "rock" ballad on the album, this one crept up on me. It's simple most of the way through, but suddenly becomes epic when the music drops out and returns tenfold. It's surprisingly effective. 9/10

9. Does He Know - Back to a poppier sound, this retains a strong rock element but there's something much more 80's and "teen pop" about it. Still, it's the perfect bridge between what I see as the album's two halves. 9/10

10. Happily - Now we're into the folkier sounds on the album (which sound so much better strung together than they do as separate experiments throughout the running order). This is the biggest and most rollicking of the three, with a huge shout-along chorus and pub atmosphere. 9/10

11. Story Of My Life - The second single. It's quite nice on its own, but sounds especially great after Happily. I'm a fan of 1D's ballads generally, but they do tend to drag the energy down if placed too early in the running order. This really needed the bridge Happily provides so as not to sound out of place. 9/10

12. Through The Dark - My favorite of the three Mumford & Sons-esque tracks, this is a midtempo, folksy pop song with one hell of a chorus. It didn't hit me on first listen, but has really stood out the more I listen to it. 10/10

13. Why Don't We Go There - Back to a rockier sound, though this has strong indie-alternative touches reminiscent of bands like the Killers. Not as strong as the tracks I put toward the beginning, but pleasant enough. 8/10

14. Strong -A lot of people are raving about this track, but I find it pretty generic. The melody's nice enough, but there just isn't anything unique about the production, at least for me. It feels more like enjoyable filler. 8/10

15. Better Than Words - Back to a funkier, more electronic sound. I wish this became a little more bombastic and fully-formed, but I do love the verse with all their song title references. 9/10

16. Something Great - Written with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, this sounds pretty much like you'd expect it to. Of the ballads that I don't care for too much, it's probably the best, and a good album closer. 8/10


17. Half A Heart - The typical drippy boyband ballad about a bad break-up. It's fine, and melodically I like the verses even if the lyrics are a little cheesy, but it's just not as strong as other tracks on the album. 7/10

18. Right Now - This ballad was co-written by Ryan Tedder. This is completely personal preference, but I've just never been much of a fan of Tedder's sound (and it definitely is a "sound," as many of his tracks are so cookie-cutter that they can be picked out instantly). This isn't one of his best, and 1D can't do much with it either. 7/10

Album Grade: 8.9/10 (B+/A-)

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dirty Loops - Hit Me

"If you don't call me, I'm going crazy"

Here's a well-produced, funky electropop jam from a band you've probably never heard of before. Dirty Loops are a trio from Sweden who make, from the sound of this track at least, Hall and Oates influenced funk pop on crack. There's so much going on in the production and vocals on this song that it really takes a few listens to let it all settle. That's not to say Hit Me isn't instant and catchy from the get-go, because it definitely is, but the true astonishment comes during repeated listens when you realize all the crap they've done here. The vocals are amazing in all their frantic crescendo-reaching glory. The instrumentation is lightning fast without sounding messy. And best of all, this song sounds nothing like anything else out there right now. That's hard to find.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Buy the single here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Direction - Alive

"Hey, it's alright"

I've not disappeared! Sorry for the extended absence. As part of my job as an author, I sometimes travel to speaking engagements and workshops and that's where I've been. During that time, One Direction's new album leaked and it's soundtracked my travels. I've always gone on record saying that I think 1D have been an interesting and welcome addition to the limited boyband pool. I'm delighted that they (and their producers) have gone for a classic powerpop sound rather than the drippy material usually given to acts of their ilk. With the new album, they've taken that even further and really distanced themselves from what is expected of a group like theirs. In some ways, it's a brave move. The album is infused with heavy rock and folk influences, amping up their sound in unexpected (yet naturally progressive) ways. It's different, and I really like it. Do I like it as much as their last album? Time will tell. For now, tracks like Alive are surprising me in wonderful ways. I'm shocked at how credibly they've managed to do real rock music. I honestly didn't know they had it in them.

(Music posted for evaluation purposes only. Preorder the album here. Follow me on twitter and facebook.