“Made in the A.M.” (Columbia) does not sound like the end of One Direction.
Oh sure, there was plenty of (mostly) manufactured concern earlier this year when Zayn Malik abruptly left the group and the remaining quartet – Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – announced they wouldn’t tour to support this album. They also decided to take a hiatus next year before they started anything new as One Direction.
Now, most adults would say this plan makes total sense, considering that the group has essentially rolled non-stop since forming in 2010 on the British version of “The X Factor.” (“Made in the A.M.” is the fifth album One Direction has released in five years.) However, the celebrity-industrial complex being what it is and the fact that nothing drives website traffic quite like click-happy, hashtag-wielding Directioners, what should have been a regular announcement was revved up to catastrophic proportions for pronouncements of breakups and in-fighting.
“Made in the A.M.” should put that to rest. The sleek, rock-influenced pop album – produced mainly by John Ryan and Julian Bunetta and co-written by Payne and Tomlinson working as a team and Horan and Styles each working with collaborators – ambitiously tries to reconstruct musical history in One Direction’s image while also showing where each one may be headed should they try out solo careers for a while.
The lead single, “Drag Me Down,” effectively co-opted the new wave energy of The Police, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The yearning “Infinity” combines chiming U2 guitars with a 21-piece string section and soaring synths. “Olivia,” co-written by Styles, is crafted to sound like The Beatles at their bounciest, while “I Want to Write You a Song” sounds like early Paul McCartney acoustics. “What a Feeling” conjures up laid-back Fleetwood Mac and yacht rock, while “Walking in the Wind” is a direct descendant of Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” right down to the spiky Afro-pop guitars.
For young listeners, all those references may sound dangerously close to schoolwork, but it’s to One Direction and their collaborators’ credit that they personalize it all enough to make it sound like they dreamed it up themselves.
They are all even more effective when they mine styles closer to home. On “Temporary Fix,” co-written by Horan, they build a power-pop cousin to “Since U Been Gone” and then puff it up to meet their own stadium-filling specifications, before closing with hooks that could have come straight from The Strokes’ debut.
One Direction also shows how they can bridge the gap between old and new in songs like “End of the Day,” which moves oddly from a playful opening verse to a stomping rock chorus and back again. Though the handclaps and acoustic guitar pushed high in the mix keep it current, the melody of “History” sounds like it could have come from a ’50s doo-wop group, though the guys sing in unison rather than in harmony.
Everything about “Made in the A.M.” is impeccably crafted, as only artists pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars can manage. There is no sign of panic here, no evidence of a group coming apart at the seams. Malik’s exit may have left the group a little less soulful, but they have been heading toward rock stardom for years. (The only tell-tale sign of fatigue comes with all the mentions of hotel rooms, an occupational hazard for touring acts.) The genres they tackle are varied enough to spawn multiple solo careers with little overlap, though maybe the guys really just need some time apart to see how well they fit together. They could also probably use some long naps.