One Direction: Four

one direction fourOne Direction
(Syco Music)

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Boy bands aren’t supposed to make it to their fourth album, at least not while they’re still relevant. Backstreet Boys, *NSync, and Take That all have three albums from their classic era. You get the eclectic, still-finding-our-sound debut, the solid pop masterpiece sophomore, and then a rebellious bid for authenticity on the third album. One Direction seem to be aware of this narrative, titling their latest album simply and triumphantly Four.

But One Direction were never quite like other boy bands anyway, and that’s because of more than just their aversion to matching outfits and choreography. Contrary to assumptions of boy bands and pop acts in general, One Direction is primarily an albums act. They’ve had few massive mainstream hits, but their albums consistently sell millions of copies world-wide. Despite its October release, Midnight Memories went on to become the biggest selling album overall of 2013. If it weren’t for Taylor Swift’s 1989, it’s likely that Four would  repeat this feat this year.

Having already gone through their “we’re more than just manufactured bubblegum pop” phase by embracing oversized stadium pop and contemporary folk on Midnight Memories, though, how does One Direction proceed? Four finds the group trafficking in the same sorts of styles—along with some other vintage sounds—but without the anxious feeling like they have something to prove. Setting aside lead single “Steal My Girl,” which feels like an embarrassing leftover from Midnight Memories, the songs here are confident and self-assured. They bring out some of their best crafted melodies (“No Control”) and set them against their most interesting arrangements (“Girl Almighty”). Finally the boys have come into their own vocally too, clearly showing the benefits of touring stadiums across the world. Lyrically we find many of the same themes of passionate love, unrequited love, sexy love…well, love of all kinds. But, for the most part, the songs have been scrubbed of their previously problematic views of consent and female agency. Simply put, Four gets almost everything right.

The production at times makes the songs sound flat and two dimensional and some of the ballads would be better off replaced by some of the uptempo bonus tracks, but Four is undoubtedly the album One Direction has been trying to make their whole career.

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About Scott Interrante

Scott Interrante currently studies Musicology at CUNY Hunter College where he focuses on issues of gender in pop music. He also writes for PopMatters, The Absolute, and Dear Song In My Head. Scott is an avid Taylor Swift fan and is currently re-watching all of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix.
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