As they chant on the album closer, One Direction have amassed a “whole lotta history” in just 5 years.
A quick recap: formed on X Factor in 2010 (ultimately placing third), their debut single is one of the best selling songs ever, four #1 albums (the only group in history to achieve this), they just recently broke a record set by The Beatles, they performed with legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood last year, Taylor Swift (she gets her own category...and shout out!), and four exhaustive worldwide tours played to over 10 million people. 1D are in transition right now; balancing between the rare feat of surviving beyond a lineup change and desperately needing to slow it all down for a bit. But Made In The A.M is significant in how conclusive it isn't. It fully intends to welcome newer (more mature) listeners with a string of tributes to yesteryear's greatest hits, while reflecting on the good times shared with dedicated fans who have yet to experience a 1D hiatus.
Harry, Louis, Niall and Liam are very clearly not ready to say goodbye yet.
On worldwide #1 lead single Drag Me Down, a confident solidarity anthem, the band quips “With your love, nobody can drag me down” as a sharp funk-infused beat sounds off. Drag Me Down proves One Direction have their own unique musical personality now, as a number of lyrical consistencies found throughout their discography show up here, too. Previous fan favourites Fireproof and Through The Dark echo in lines like “I’ve got fire for a heart, I’m not scared of the dark”, both literally and metaphorically - these three tracks are all fight songs vowing to persevere beyond any setbacks, mainly thanks to the positivity love brings life.
There’s no doubt that Made in the A.M. is at its strongest when the boys tap into their emotional side and you’d be hard pushed to find a more effective tear jerker than If I Could Fly. The Harry Styles-penned piano ballad about monogamous devotion is sure to both pull at the heartstrings and deftly dismiss the pesky womanizer rumours that seem to plague Styles. The lyrics find elegance in their simplicity and prove that One Direction’s knack for the understated is their greatest musical weapon.
The disarmingly poetic lyrics continue on Olivia. A lovesick Styles sounds like he’s floating on air as he sighs “The summertime, and butterflies, all belong to your creation” over a live orchestra, reimagining the Beatles as they might sound in 2015 (the song was appropriately recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios). Olivia is the biggest creative risk on the record, but it pays off. This track will instantly cause vivid teenage flashbacks for anyone over 40 and is catchy enough to get their teenagers dancing, too. 1D are always accused of pandering to (or even talking down to) their key demographic, but the reality, never more evident than on Made in the A.M., is that, while they are acutely aware of who they’re talking to, the door for building a more widespread audience is actually wide open. There really is something for everyone on this album.
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Another strength of Made In The A.M.'s is showcasing how introspective their songwriting can be. Walking In The Wind – imagine Story of My Life and Ready To Run mashed together – features a brilliantly mature lyric: “The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye means we’ve already won”. Cynics might assume a reference to the blown out of proportion break they’re taking soon, but the rest of the lyrics incorporate enough specific references that make it clear the song is about someone who recently exited their lives. Wonder who?
To 1D’s credit, Made in the A.M doesn’t talk down to Zayn at all. He did something for his own life that, in turn, affected all of theirs. For Styles, it made him reflect on a now altered future. Friendship breakdowns are a fairly untouched topic in pop music, Walking In The Wind is refreshing in its honesty. “Yesterday I went out to celebrate the birthday of a friend. As we raised our glasses up to make a toast, I realised you were missing...”. It’s a simple but heart-wrenching recount of a moment that hurt when it really shouldn’t have. The song is still optimistic, though, like a smile on the face of someone who just finished crying. “It’s not the end, I’ll see your face again. You will find me, in places we’ve never been, for reasons we don’t understand, walking in the wind”. The unknown of where, when, how, why and how they will meet a lost friend again is enough to keep anyone left behind awake at night.
Similarly emotive career retrospectives History and A.M. also stand out for their clearly autobiographical nature. A testament to the friendship of the four remaining boys and an apparent promise to return after their hiatus, History finds Tomlinson - whose confident vocals are one of the albums better surprises - breathlessly repeating “this is not the end” over the bridge. A.M. plays off a similarly simple four-chord acoustic backdrop and, between their delightfully lazy delivery and the slightly ludicrous thrill of hearing a band built on a squeaky-clean boy band formula singing about “talking out of our asses”, it’s a practically perfect way to close the deluxe edition of the record.
Never far from speculation, much has been made of the potential Taylor Swift ‘diss’ in second single Perfect, which is a shame because the song has far more going for it than its similarities to Swift’s “Style”, and Styles’ theorised jab at Taylor’s habit of capitalizing on her failed relationships. Boasting some of Styles’ best vocals, and one of the album’s catchiest choruses, it’s an instant highlight. Having said that, catchy choruses are in abundance throughout Made in the A.M., evident in 1D’s ode to break-up sex, Love You Goodbye.
The Niall-penned Never Enough and Temporary Fix both provide a much-needed excuse to party on an otherwise reflective album. Never Enough sees Liam utilize his beatboxing abilities to create a “The Way You Make Me Feel”-esque earworm, while he and Niall trade rap verses about a self-destructive thirst that can't be quenched. Temporary Fix, inexplicably relegated to bonus track status, is the most energetic rock song in years. The Neon Trees-esque song makes much better use of Harry and Louis than Never Enough. The natural chemistry of the band on display here is why One Direction enchants so many.
An album standout is the summer-breezy, laidback affair of What A Feeling. Already receiving universal acclaim for its effortless Fleetwood Mac influence, the real treasure is in the lyrics, which are emotional yet vague enough to both represent the odd life 1D lead but still be accessible to anyone listening. A chilled out party track you could get just as much from on a rainy day indoors.
Made in the A.M. has more mixed results, however, when the band aims for contemporary production. As much as the bonkers (and ever so slightly reminiscent of .Fun) structure of End of the Day is a resounding success, their attempts to think outside of the box fall short on potential third single Infinity. Undoubtedly the most ‘current’ sounding track on Made in the A.M., sadly it’s also one of the most forgettable. The synth laden track is a gorgeous piece of music but it doesn’t pair well with the boy’s signature lyrical style, developed by writing heavy-weights Louis and Liam alongside longtime writer/producer Julian Bunetta. Ultimately, the album is at its best when it’s timeless and “Infinity” doesn’t promise to age well. Similarly, the album opener Hey Angel tries to relive the glory of 90s rock but ends up a little too on the nose, sounding like a b-side for The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony.
Overall, the album stands strong next to previous releases Four and Midnight Memories, though it's not quite as cohesive as the pop masterpiece Take Me Home. The band all bring their own individual personalities to the mix and, while they always come together beautifully, it will be interesting to see what a two year break from life on the road will do to invigorate their lyrical content and sound as a group. If this is them at their most exhausted and worn out, people better be ready for refreshed and rested 1D. One Direction's songwriting is already their strongest creative trait, and biggest advantage compared to past boy bands, so writing informed by a life actually lived outside of fame should make for an amazing sixth album. Made In The A.M. will tide us over just fine until then.