One Direction breaks records with uplifting fourth album


Lexy Connolly

Somewhere amidst a 70-show tour, numerous promotional appearances and multiple time-consuming charity efforts, iconic boy band One Direction managed to release its fourth album, FOUR on Nov. 17.
An intense campaign preceded the release of the album: seven singles were released in only a week before the album dropped; the quintet made appearances on every major news program around the world, the boys even had a live YouTube stream letting fans in on the secrets of the record’s production.
By most boy bands’ fourth album, the quality, effort and sales decline rapidly. When The Backstreet boys released Never Gone in 2005, the sales decreased by over 1 million from their third album. However, One Direction’s latest album had one of the best opening weeks of 2014, second only to Taylor Swift’s 1989. They made history, becoming the first boy band to ever have their first four albums debut as #1 on the Billboard 100. With FOUR selling almost 400,000 records in its first week, One Direction showed critics that they’re not going anywhere.
What the band has maintained in record sales, it has maintained in quality. Critics who jab at the boys for being too clean-cut or lacking depth are missing the point. The music that One Direction puts out is intended for an audience of teenage girls looking for something to relate to. And that is exactly what FOUR provides: a mix of uplifting anthems and stirring melodies that every emotional teenage girl can identify with.
While fans of the band’s earlier works will not be disappointed, FOUR offers listeners a sound that is unique. Each in their early 20s now, the boys have formulated more grown-up melodies and lyrics, even vaguely alluding to sex (on occasion).
Certain tracks from FOUR even pay homage to decades from the past. The first chord progression of the album in hit-single, “Steal My Girl,” sets a ’70s vibe for the track, while “Girl Almighty” has a vibrant swing that resembles hits from the ’60s. “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” exudes an ’80s arena-rock sound that makes listeners want to get on their feet and dance.
Slower, more emotional tracks tug at listeners’ heart strings. Enchantingly harmonic single, “Night Changes,” puts into music an adolescent’s desire to stay young, reminding us that “we’re only getting older, baby.” Soft melancholy pieces, like “Fool’s Gold” describe the struggles of maintaining a one-way relationship, while acoustic ballad, “18,” (written by Ed Sheeran) tells the story of a long-lasting love.
All five boys’ vocals have been mastered and meticulously crafted into each track, making the harmonies tighter than ever. Each member helped to write at least one of the songs on the album, so listeners can hear the individual styles of their favorite members.
However, this independent writing approach came with a downside. The one aspect of FOUR that I would criticize is the fluidity of the album. Each song, taken individually, is expertly written, sung and produced. But, when compiled into an album of 16 tracks, transitions between songs seem random and distracting, quickly changing from a gloomy description of the distance between two past lovers (“Spaces”) to a peppy dance track that humorously depicts being held hostage in a relationship (“Stockholm Syndrome”). Each song is so different from the next that no stylistic theme appears to arise.
So, although I was impressed by the unique sounds and writing contributions of One Direction’s FOUR, I would challenge the boys to be more unified when they sit down to start creating album number five. Because one thing’s for sure: there will be an album number five.