The new One Direction album sounds like it was designed to win over (or perhaps further irritate) people likely to scoff at the idea that this British outfit is the biggest band on the planet.
The scale of its success seems beyond dispute, with 16 million Twitter followers, 35 million albums sold worldwide and well more than 1 billion views of its videos on YouTube — all in the two years since the group released its debut in 2011.
Yet One Direction’s origin story, as five super-cute solo contestants thrown together on the U.K. version of The X Factor, triggers skepticism among believers in certain creative traditions: writing your own songs, say, or jamming with guys you’ve known since childhood.
None of that could possibly matter less on Midnight Memories, easily the year’s most convincing rock album. Here are spirited, pitch-perfect replicas of the Who’s power-chord bombast (Best Song Ever), Van Halen’s louche boogie (Little Black Dress) and Def Leppard’s stadium-sized glam (Midnight Memories).
In Does He Know?, a bonus track from the album’s deluxe edition, the band helps itself to the instantly recognizable riff from Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield, while You & I could be a cover of Bryan Adams’ early-’80s ballad Heaven.
Overall, the record presents a rowdier, more guitar-oriented sound than One Direction’s previous efforts, which made greater use of synthetic club beats and R&B-style singing.
The group has been affecting a studied looseness onstage, as well. On the recent American Music Awards broadcast, de facto frontman Harry Styles pushed his voice during the new album’s Story of My Life beyond the usual boy-band precision into a kind of tortured man-bellow.
So having fully conquered the moms-and-daughters set that propelled them to stardom, is the band now gunning for the dads who’ve begrudgingly chaperoned their girls at One Direction gigs across the land? Maybe.
Even if they’re hitting all kinds of dad-rock pleasure centers on Midnight Memories, though, the lyrics may alarm parents: “Your eyes keep saying things,” “She kissed me like she meant it,” “I wanna see the way you move for me.”
Then again, the One Direction machine has grown too large (and too lucrative) to risk truly alienating anyone, which is why Midnight Memories offsets the lively bad-boy stuff with a handful of swooning folk-pop numbers seemingly inspired by the good-guy likes of Travis and Mumford & Sons. Through the Dark is a shuffling acoustic ditty complete with overblown words about fighting through fire and water for someone’s love. It could be by the Lumineers.
But One Direction in pure thirsting-for-respect mode is nobody’s idea of a good time.
What makes songs like Diana and Little White Lies so much fun is that you can hear a bit of the laughing contempt that the band holds for those unwilling to take it seriously — the same kind of contempt, it also should be noted, that the Who and Van Halen once oozed.
These sounds are ours to use now, the music seems to say. You really think you can stop us?