All successful boy bands struggle to balance their growing maturity with the expectations of their youngest fans. Boy band One Direction has reached that crossroad with their third album, which is an effort to bring a slightly hard-edge rock sound to a band best known for their single “What Makes You Beautiful.”
In its first week of release, Midnight Memories has become the fastest-selling album in the group’s short history. Which at least implies that fans have embraced the new sound.
But how has it been received by fans who are a bit less obsessive? The band continues to be more popular in its native U.K. than in the U.S. and the first two singles off the album – “Best Song Ever” and “Story of My Life” – were modest hits in the U.S. but topped the charts in the U.K. and Europe.
While One Direction’s new album has a slightly harder edge, it’s hard in the style of ‘60s rock bands. The guitars are more upfront, the vocals are a bit more ragged, but there’s no Miley Cyrus-type effort to become more “adult.”
The lyrics are still family-friendly and while the band flirts, it never lets the passion get too hot or past the PG-13 range. Singing that a girl “can’t be trusted” is just about as far as any track goes and it’s a testament to the band that their restraint isn’t at all noticeable when listening to the release.
In fact, Midnight Memories is a pretty good album. While there’s nothing as catchy as “What Makes You Beautiful,” there are some clever hooks and the songs have a lush, poppy sound that is a smart evolution in the band’s musical growth. The themes are the same ones bands have been tackling since the first days of rock, with “Does He Know” sounding like a spin-off of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and the title track gives a nod to the classic Def Leppard tune “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”
“Diana” is another highlight of the album, as it takes the sound of Sting and 1980s era music by The Police and moves it into a new century. It’s a confident and sassy move and it reflects the band’s growing confidence in their work.
One Direction came to public notice after finishing seventh during a season of the U.K. version of “The X Factor.” It’s always been tempting to write the band off as musical lightweights, given their background and string of catchy and ultimately disposable hit singles. But Midnight Memories hints at the band’s ability to move past the boy band moniker and just make great music.
That they’ve been able to do that while remaining family-friendly and somewhat innocent makes this release a great gift. It’s hip enough for the teen women in your life, but it’s also innocent enough to make it a comfortable purchase. Midnight Memories is proof that being popular and a mainstream hit doesn’t always mean being unsuitable for kids of all ages.