Straight up: hopeless crush on Liam aside for one minute, we still quite like One Direction. Fine, we’re not really their market and we’re on a 50:50 good-to-guff ratio for their output. But by the Christ do we admire the hustle – whiter-than-white current iteration notwithstanding – and the relentless world-conquering ways that most haters could only dream of.
So it pleases us much that there’s loads to love in Made In The A.M., effectively their swansong (come on, there’s no such thing as a hiatus in boyband terms). Not that it’s groundbreaking fodder by any means – and we’re going to bypass the Style-ripping Perfect – but it’s an album full of carefully-constructed stadium-sized pop that knows how to please its audience.
First, the good bits. Opener Hey Angel might well be our favourite track of theirs to date, the sort of road-pop Roxette would have been proud of – a comparison we’d be happier to make if we thought the boys were old enough to remember who they are. If it’s Roxette there then it’s very evidently The Police on Drag Me Down, but it’s all so bloody charming in a last-day-of-high-school kinda way that you just end up happily signing the metaphorical yearbook, so to speak. That first track in particular bursts through like morning sun, taking advantage of that very particular 1D quality of making every song sound like it was written especially for the person listening. Which is nice when you need a little ego boost here and there and think Liam is telling you you’re amazing.
Of course, that very 1D quality also gives way to the usual slate of simple pop lyrics that do the rest of their music a disservice. If Taylor Swift and Little Mix have taught us anything, it’s that their perceived demographics are happy to accept something a little bit spikier than simple lovelorn rhymes. They confirm the stereotypical boyband image on soggy ballads like If I Could Fly and Long Way Down, but admittedly when it’s packaged in songs like End Of The Day and Never Enough (pure funk-pop goodness, by the way) we’re willing to overlook perfunctory lyrics that could have been written by your dementia-ridden nan.
Vocally, there’s definitely no discernible feeling that a Malik-shaped member is missing – partly, we feel, because most of their songs were probably constructed to pre-empt a departure, but also because theirs is a genre in which duties will always be interchangeable. There is, however, a sadness that this is the end for a pop group that really seem to be hitting their stride. The sound is maturing along with their audience (What A Feeling is a total winner), and it’s a shame that we might not see it develop further. But at least Made In The A.M. ought to be enjoyed very much for what it is: a peppy shot of invigorating pop coffee as opposed to one last snooze button on a boyband past their prime.
Made In The A.M. by One Direction can be ordered here.