Favorite Album of 2013, a.k.a. the One Direction post you all knew was coming

the real one is so awkward/photoshopped I hate it

This is not the album cover BUT IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. (via)

Listen, y’all. Midnight Memories is where it’s at; like if you don’t know now you’ll never know and I feel so, so sorry for you, man, because this is an amazing pop album.

Okay so obviously I am in way too deep to offer an objective analysis but the good thing about music is that you can always listen to it and decide for yourself? You don’t have to take my word for it, I’m just asking you to give it a chance. And in return  I will try my best to keep this focused on the actual music and not how amazingly cute/funny/cheeky the 1D boys are. For the record, One Direction is the best boy band ever, and I say that as an OG *NSYNC fangirl from way back in the day so.

Last side note: If you are looking for some external validation of the quality of this album other than my ravings, The Daily Beast and Grantland are two sort of high-brow blogs that published not necessarily glowing but favorable and insightful reviews. And there’s a moderate level of flailing in The Hairpin‘s piece but it’s got some good analysis too so definitely worth a peep.

Well there’s only one way to do this and that’s track by stellar track so let’s gooooooooo.

Best Song Ever Old news; this song came out during promo for their documentary in July so nothing too exciting here. Did you guys see This Is Us though? Wasn’t it endearing? I’m asking for the DVD for Christmas.
But yeah, definitely not the best song ever; actually just a pretty standard, fluffy pop jam (“I think it went ‘oh oh oh,’ I think it went ‘yeah yeah yeah,’ I think it goes… [rippin’ guitar solo]”). In the context of the overall album the rock-and-roll vibes definitely become a little more evident, especially Liam’s solo at the beginning of the second verse: “Said her name was Georgia Rose/and her daddy was a dentist.” UGH. Also Liam is hands-down the best singer in the band; don’t fight me on this.

Story of My Life This single also dropped like a month before the album, which takes away a little bit of the shine. Hard to say how much I would have liked it if I hadn’t been blaring it on repeat for a solid two weeks. Also the music video is adorable/creepy? IDK decide for yourself. But this song a good example of how it seems like they made a conscious effort to evenly distribute solos on this album instead of just having one go-to frontman, and for the most part the production accentuates the unique qualities of each of their voices so you can actually tell who’s singing instead of just autotuning them to death, which was one of my issues with their first album.
Also they absolutely smash this one when they sing it live (especially Harry OMG), so it’s a much better promo single than “Best Song Ever” which is important because I want everyone to love One Direction as much as I do.

Diana I almost always skip this one, not gonna lie. Also the chorus is extremely similar to “Last First Kiss” from their second album so yeah like just listen to that one instead; it’s much better. But apparently this song is supposed to be about fans and stuff so I guess it’s kind of a sweet sentiment: “Diana, let me be the one to lift your heart up and save your life/I don’t think you even realize, baby you’d be saving mine.” Aww.

Midnight Memories Is the chorus a blatant rip off of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”? Yes. Does that change the fact that this song will want to make you drive to the nearest dive bar, shotgun a couple of beers and then  reenact every bar dancing scene from Coyote Ugly? Hell no. “Midnight Memories” is the musical embodiment of sexual frustration, y’all, from “5-foot somethin’ with the skinny jeeeeeeeans” (Liam AGAIN ugh) to “baby you and me, stumblin’ in the street” to all the panting, it’s just too much.
Also I’m pretty sure One Direction is infamous at this point for innocent-sounding lyrics that are really practically explicit (“And if we get together, yeah get together/don’t let the pictures leave your phone” from “Live While We’re Young” is the first example that springs to mind), but can we talk about “People talk shhh but we don’t listen”/”Same old shhh but a different day”?!  Which is the closest they have ever come to actually swearing; I know it’s hoping against hope and will never actually happen but if there is a God and he loves me the next One Direction album will get an explicit content warning so they can finally say “shit” because seriously this is ridiculous.

You & I This is the other song I usually skip oops. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that the other ones are so good and I’m too impatient to listen to such a mellow tune. Zayn does absolutely shred the high notes, though, and there’s a pretty sweet, Coldplay-esque guitar solo in the middle so if you’re into that kind of thing and/or in the right mood it might be worth a listen.

Don’t Forget Where You Belong Did I mention that one of the big things that they’ve been talking about with this album is how the band helped write a bunch of the tracks themselves? Not sure exactly how much credit to give but at least one of them is listed as a writer on 12 out of 14 songs for the regular edition, and 15 out of 18 for the deluxe. It definitely seems like at least Louis and Liam were pretty significant contributors so that’s interesting/promising if it’s indicative of the direction of the sound, since they’re signed for two more albums at least. Anyway all that to say “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” is Niall’s one song; he co-wrote it with McFly and it’s really sweet and charming just like everything about Niall, who’s almost single-handedly responsible for holding up 1D’s clean-cut “boy band” image while the rest of them have started lookin’ a lil’ ragtag to be honest. Except for Liam, who is apparently becoming David Beckham? A helpful visual from their recent SNL gig: 

Is it just me or does Liam's arm look freakishly large here? Some weird photoshop going on for sure.

Niall’s the lil’ blondie on the end, for the truly uninitiated who are still reading this for some reason or another? (And then it’s Zayn, Harry, Liam, and Louis, just in case you were wondering about the rest…)

Strong Okay so then we come to “Strong,” which credits Louis as the main writer and is potentially one of my favorites on the album; the lyrics aren’t super groundbreaking but they’re pretty solid compared to the rest of One Direction’s discography in my opinion: “My heart, your heart, sit tight like book ends/pages between us, written with no end.” Not bad, eh? And the chorus is consciously contradicting pop music stereotypes/concepts of masculinity, which co-writer Julian Bunetta said in an interview was Louis’ idea. Hence, “I’m sorry if I say I need you/but I don’t care I’m not scared of love/cuz when I’m not with you I’m weaker/is that so wrong, is it so wrong/that you make me strong?” No, Louis, it isn’t wrong at all. It is so, so right.

Happily THIS SONG. UGH. Just when you think you’ve sort of figured out One Direction’s sound and think that maybe your obsession with them has peaked and perhaps someday you’ll be able to think about something other than what Harry Styles is doing right now, they go and put out a super-folksy, catchy-as-f*ck, absolute jam that just opens up a whole new realm of possibilities and yup you’re definitely going to be doing this till you’re 90. I mean, I’m not saying Midnight Memories is One Direction’s Rubber Soul or anything, but I’m not *not* saying that.
Anyway Harry is credited as a co-writer on this song, which makes absolutely perfect sense because it basically sounds exactly like his personality in musical form. (And okay I know I said I was only going to talk about the music but if your only perception of him is as Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend that is 100% wrong, wrong, wrong. Do yourself a huge favor and watch this compilation video from the fan event they did recently; yes it’s almost fifteen minutes long but it’s so, so adorable and sums him up perfectly.) Although I am still waiting for someone to explain to me the lyrics “If he feels my traces in your hair/I’m sorry love but I don’t really care.” Like. Can that even mean what I think it means? (I am pretty sure it can/does.)

Right Now Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic co-wrote this song with Harry, Louis and Liam and it definitely has a OneRepublic vibe but in this case I’m totally down with that. More mind-boggling vocals from Zayn, which is pretty much par for the course at this point.

Little Black Dress More throwback rock-and-roll; this one is just so catchy and fun and I can totally picture them having a blast doing it live. Kind of interesting that this is the song that almost every mainstream music critic picked as the top track from the album; the Grantland piece I linked above raves about it, and People and Entertainment Weekly singled it out too. Also kind of sounds like a lost track from Hanson’s The Walk album, which is a reference that literally no one will get so moving on.

Through The Dark A folk-rock jam with a solid beat; not quite as carefree as “Happily” but definitely one of my favorites. Another moment where it’s clear that they actually are going towards a different sound (the popular phrase is “more mature,” which I hate), and all that talk before the album dropped wasn’t entirely promo b.s. Mumford &  Sons comparisons are inevitable but there’s a whole host of folk-pop bands that have made bank imitating them so I’m not sweating it too bad.
Also the initial, obvious read is that it’s another love song  but I saw something on tumblr pointing out how it could actually be just about like having your bros’ backs so I reassessed and it’s certainly plausible; there’s definitely nothing overtly romantic about the lyrics: “You tell me that you’re hurt and you’re in pain/and I can see your head is held in shame/but I just wanna see you smile again/see you smile again,” etc. Anyway not sure what the intention was but that’s my preferred interpretation now.

Something Great There is one very simple reason that I’m obsessed with this song and I’m not ashamed to say that it’s because I’m a Harry girl, through and through. (Zayn was my fave for a hot sec when I very first got into them, and then Liam charmed me for a while–and still does, if to a slightly lesser degree–but I’m pretty rock solid on Styles now.) If you know a single Snow Patrol song you could probably tell instantaneously that Gary Lightbody co-wrote this track, and I’m not particularly a fan of his so that’s usually the kiss of death. (See: “The Last Time” from Taylor Swift’s Red, which is an absolutely incredible album but that song is a showstopper in the worst possible way ugh I hate it.)
But Harry is a credited writer too and also features heavily on lead vocals so I’m all about this tune. Plus so much of their music/band image is cheeky, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” shtick that it’s actually refreshing to hear them sound so freaking earnest, i.e. the super-plaintive last lines that come courtesy of Louis (and are perfectly suited to his slightly thinner tone, I might add): “You’re all I want/so much it’s hurting.” And okay maybe I’m being super sappy about this whole thing or I’m in too deep or whatever, but I feel like this song carries some serious emotional weight r.e.: the intensity and heartbreak of young love; it really gets to me in the same way that a lot of the aforementioned T. Swift album does.

Little White Lies OMG this song is scandalous, y’all. The message is highly questionable but it’s just so freaking catchy and they get that electronic/dubstep thing going and you literally have no choice but to rock out. “You say you’re a good girl/but I know you would girl” is brilliant but also problematic if you think about it at all in terms of consent or perceptions of femininity. Also “You wanna make some rules now/cool, then we’ll watch them break tonight” is possibly the douchiest line I have ever heard.
None of which changes the fact that this is my jam; I honestly don’t have any problem getting down with this or even something like “Blurred Lines” as long as you’re aware of all the gender roles/expectations that are in play. And if I ever need an antidote to this I just think about “Kiss You” from their last album, which in addition to being the most perfect pop song ever is almost entirely focused on partner consent: The lyric “Oh tell me, tell me, tell me how to turn your love on/you can get, get anything that you want,” for example, which no one will ever convince me is not about cunnilingus. But anyway.

Better Than Words Okay so if you were gonna make one criticism of this album it would have to be that none of the songs are pure, 100% bubblegum silliness that automatically brings a huge, dumb smile to your face and makes you hit replay eight times in a row (both “Kiss You” and “I Would” from their last record definitely have that quality in spades), BUT this song definitely comes really close. Mainly because of the sheer novelty of the concept, in that the verses of this song are composed entirely of titles of other songs. Which seems so silly but is actually a pretty brilliant way to describe being in love, as the bridge elaborates: “Everyone tries to say what it feels like/but they’ll never be right cuz it’s better.” Like, is pop music really necessary anymore after this? Is there anywhere to go from here, or can we shut the whole thing down á la the Pitchfork sketch from “Portlandia”?  (In the same interview I linked above, Julian Bunetta credits Liam with the initial idea for the song, for which he deserves some kind of freaking medal. Or at least a Grammy.)
To make matters worse, Niall’s second-verse solo features the single most obscene lyric on the entire album: “Best I ever had/hips don’t lie/you make me wanna ssssssss/one more night,” in which “ssssssss”is the most explicit, sexually frustrating sound that a human being is capable of making. I played this song for my hipster brother without saying anything about it beforehand, and he immediately commented on this line with a mixture of bemusement and disgust: “What does that even mean? Why don’t they just say, ‘You make me wanna fuck’?” To which the answer is obvious:

dare to dream.mp3

My prayer circle for the next One Direction album to have one of these glorious labels on the cover meets every Wednesday at 8. All are welcome, refreshments to follow.

So that’s it for the standard edition. However if you’re getting the album anyway you might as well go all in for the deluxe version, which features four more glorious tracks of pop music perfection:

Why Don’t We Go There Hmm. Okay, well this one has kind of the same slightly predatory vibe as “Little White Lies”: “Say the word, say the word but don’t say no” in particular is just a real gem of a lyric. I think they were going for more of a lighthearted, “might as well” (heh) type thing, and the chorus is a lot more in that vein: “We got all night/we’re goin’ nowhere/why don’t you stay/why don’t we go there?” is pretty harmless, all things considered. Does it go without saying that this song is catchy as hell?

Does He Know? More cute, fun, catchy pop, blah blah blah, “Jessie’s Girl,” blah blah blah. Whatever. It’s good, and lots of  teenage girls are gonna want to get secret tattoos now (if the band’s cumulative hundreds of tattoos haven’t inspired them enough already), and will be perfect for rocking out when they go on their stadium tour (!) in 2014.

Alive YES. This is the jam that makes the deluxe version worthwhile, a fresh injection of hormonally charged pop-rock that evokes the Jonas Brothers at their peak (which is a compliment; Lines, Vines and Trying Times has maybe one too many duds to be a truly masterful pop album but it comes pretty close, and they put out a ton of stellar singles in their heyday, bless ’em) , while simultaneously providing the perfect line for any bro who’s looking to get a little action: “Hey, it’s alright/does it make you feel alive?” Um yeah well you know what makes me  feel alive, One Direction? Ripping off the testicles of creepy assholes who try to pick me up while I’m doing tequila shots with my homegirls and rocking out to Miley Cyrus. You feel me?
Just kidding I love this song obviously.

Half A Heart Listen, I do not think it’s a coincidence that this song has the cheesiest lyrics on the album and none of the boys were contributing writers, and I am so hoping that the unprecedented global success of this album (too lazy to look up any of the numbers, but I’m pretty sure One Direction is just breaking their own sales records at this point) means that they’ll get to have even more input for the next one. (*cough*parental advisory*cough*) Because seriously, “If you could spare an hour or so/we’ll go for lunch down by the river/we can really talk it through” does not sound like something that anyone in One Direction would ever say, or anything that their fans would want to hear. Like, what perception do all these middle-aged male songwriters have of teenage girls if they think that this is the kind of crap they’ll eat up? “I’m walking around with just one shoe/I’m half a heart without you”? Really?
I might be extra-sensitive to this issue because I have a distinct memory of my own preteen self happily boppin’ along to my favorite *NSYNC album and suddenly thinking, “Wow, this song is really dumb. Why am I listening to this?” and then that was it; my boy band phase unceremoniously ended and I spent the next six years only listening to movie soundtracks and Josh Groban records. Which was a low point in my musical life, I’ll admit.
Fortunately I have reached the point where I can overlook lyrical inanity as long as the tune is good enough, and this one is definitely a ballad you can sink your teeth into and blast in your bedroom while you have a good cry over your ex. The other saving grace is that this is the only song where the boys’ British accents are really obvious and it is so, so endearing; listening to Harry sing “half a heart” with those long, tall vowels just makes me go weak at the knees OK.

And that’s it! That’s the whole album! Wow, this  got to be ridiculously long; congrats if you actually read the whole thing/hopefully it was coherent. K byeeeeeeee!

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