BOTTOM LINE The most musical of the One Direction guys goes his own way.
When U.K. pop sensation One Direction decided to go on hiatus, Niall Horan was the one whose musical future seemed the most secure.
Sure, Harry Styles may have gotten more attention. And Zayn Malik knew how to court controversy. But Horan was the one who kept the group musically grounded — the one who actually played guitar during the shows and who seemed the most self-sufficient.
His debut, “Flicker” (Capitol), confirms all of those ideas and more, with 10 songs that he co-wrote that offer up a sound that is both current enough to win over pop radio, yet durable enough to last for years to come.
The poppiest moments have already surfaced — the slinky, chart-topping come-on “Slow Hands” and the straightforward, Ed Sheeran-styled acoustic smash “This Town.”
But “Flicker” is both wider and way deeper than that. “Seeing Blind,” Horan’s unexpected duet with rising country star Maren Morris, could be a crossover hit on both the pop and country charts, as their sweet harmonies float over a Lumineers groove. Maybe more surprising are “Since We’re Alone” and “On the Loose” — two breezy, midtempo rockers that sound like they were pulled from Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night” album from 1987, six years before young Niall was born. They are both sweet little slices of pop-leaning rock that conjure thoughts of Stevie Nicks on the cooing backing vocals and Lindsey Buckingham on the guitar flourishes.
However, it is the album’s title track that shows off Horan’s biggest strength. The simple love song features Horan earnestly delivering lines like “There’s a light in the dark, still a flicker of hope that you first gave to me that I wanna keep,” over a swelling string section.
As prefab as One Direction’s rise to superstardom may have been, with “Flicker,” Horan proves he is the real deal.