From left, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horan of the musical group One Direction perform on stage at the American Music Awards on Sunday.
One Direction (Columbia)
One Direction isn’t really a boy band.
They don’t do harmonies or synchronized moves, and they rarely do dance music. On “Midnight Memories,” they stray even further from the boy band mold, focusing more on guitar-driven rock and trading off vocal lines rather than singing in unison as a group.
It’s a smart move, since these songs will certainly have a longer shelf life than most standard boy band fare and actually give the British quintet a way to continue to grow as artists into adulthood if they like. “Midnight Memories” is packed with songs that are catchy and on trend, but not so timely they will soon sound dated.
The opener, “Best Song Ever,” sets the tone musically, with its roaring guitars and Clash-like yelps. Much of the album has an ’80s feel, perfect for parents to reminisce while their tweens keep the CD on repeat. “Diana” welds bits of Sting-like phrasing with Richard Marx-ist glossy pop-rock. “Does He Know?” sounds like “Jessie’s Girl”-era Rick Springfield. “Little Black Dress” echoes early Cheap Trick.
On the other end of the spectrum are the poppier renovations of Mumford & Sons-styled folk, especially the kickdrum-driven “Happily.” In fact, the rollicking folk of “Through the Dark” and “Something Great” could easily trick some Lumineers-loving adult-alternative types, who tend to look down at One Direction’s blatant pop, into thinking they were listening to the Next Big Neo-Folk Thing.
Actually, the lads carry that off so well, it might actually be where One Direction is heading next if they tire of being pop idols.
— GLENN GAMBOA,
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones (Reprise)
Close your eyes and imagine what a tribute to the Everly Brothers featuring Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day would sound like. “Foreverly,” Jones’ and Armstrong’s ode to the brothers’ work, sounds identical to the renditions of the imagination: clean, honest, simple in a beautiful way and, if you wear the cynic’s cap, pointless.
As such, it’s one of the most rebellious things each has done. Somewhat akin to director Gus Van Sant’s remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, “Foreverly” pairs the singers in celebration of what Armstrong considers to be a buried classic: the 1958 Everly Brothers album of traditionals, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.”
The original versions highlighted the razor sharp harmonies of Phil and Don Everly, best known for their teen hit “Wake Up Little Susie.” Jones and Armstrong’s update can’t possibly rise to that level of genetically rooted harmony. Still, in songs such as “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” the devoted ballad “Oh So Many Years” and the gripping murder ballad “Down in the Willow Garden,” the pair makes a valid argument for the project.
Essential? Hardly. But one listen to the lovely “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” confirms that it’s also pointless to quibble with such an oft-blissful tribute to harmony and artistic curiosity.
— RANDALL ROBERTS,
Los Angeles Times
Blood Orange (Domino)
Last week, the British style magazine Dazed & Confused quoted Blood Orange’s Devonte Hynes as saying that none of the songs he’d apparently been asked to write for Britney Spears’ upcoming album had made the cut. Too bad.
As demonstrated by his recent work with Sky Ferreira and Solange, Hynes specializes in facilitating self-discovery (or at least its illusion). Often, Hynes sounds like he’s trying to get to the bottom of the 1980s fixation coursing through so much indie-aligned pop and rock right now, working airy, mournful vamps for long stretches to understand the nostalgia they’re triggering.
It’s likely an especially complicated swirl of associations for Hynes, who was born in Texas, grew up in England and lives in New York. Maybe that background is what led to a song as weirdly hybridized as “Uncle Ace,” which layers undulating, Philip Glass-style woodwinds over a taut disco groove, or to his left-field cover of “I Can Only Disappoint U” by the C-list Brit-pop band Mansun.
But the brainy record-nerd stuff is just a delivery device for emotions that can border on the maudlin. Is that a turnoff? It evidently was for Britney. But there’s a bravery to Hynes’ vulnerability here.
Los Angeles Times