Boy bands enter puberty and grow up in the public eye, harmonizing and immortalizing every acne and backseat grope through the songs they are paid to sing. Most of them break up or lose their fans before they enter the “I’m drunk, I need rehab, I’m gay, and I have STDs” stage, often only coming back to tell all in some The Big Reunion TV special years later when they are barely a dot on pop culture. It’s reassuring – or disturbing, depending on how much you like or loathe boybands – that One Direction is following the same route that has been taken by boybands big and small in the past.
For their third album in three years, the One Direction moppets take the predictable decision to show their fans that they are real men now, by the tried and true method of ditching baggy shorts and T-shirts for jackets, jeans, and a permanent stubble. Mind you, it’s not like they have been all squeaky clean – their last album contains non-stop peer pressure dictates for girls to put out if they love these boys.
This time around, they sing about teenage version of post-coital blues. As usual, riffs that sound suspiciously like they have been ripped out of popular tracks by actual men such as The Who and Def Leppard are all over the place, giving songs like Story of My Life a faux folk rock sound to suggest that these boys are finally growing up. Of course, that doesn’t mean that these guys are brooding all the time about the break-ups of their made-for-publicity relationships with female starlets. Songs like Best Song Ever affect to capture the magic of prom night shags and other wholesome fun using unbelievably cheesy lines like “And it goes oh-oh-oh, and it goes yeah-yeah-yeah!” These lines are so corny that I can only hope that they are about a singing penis and the whole song is an inside joke.
These boys also try very hard to sound like the Backstreet Boys in tracks like You & I and Strong. But there’s nothing wrong with this, as ear candy is ear candy, so we all may as well party until these boys get dropped and go separate ways to pursue failed solo careers.
The whole thing is well-produced, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like this album more than I would like to confess in public. However, the boys have placed themselves in an awkward position here. By shrugging off the infectious kiddie anthems for more mature-sounding tracks, they lose much of their charm. They become – dare I say it – a bit boring here, as the more “grown-up” songs here feel derivative and charmless compared to their more unapologetic trashy pop anthems in the past.
I know. everyone has to grow up, especially boy bands who, three years into the scene, are dangerously close to approaching their sell-by date. But these lads would need to ask their handlers to buy them better songs, as right now they sound like little boys awkwardly trying to deal with puberty instead of growing up gracefully. It’s a good thing that I’m very lenient when it comes to trashy pop music, and they are making far better Backstreet Boys music now than Backstreet Boys themselves these days. This one gets a pass from me, but I think I’d be playing their early efforts more often.