Album Review: One Direction – Up All Night

So this album came out half a year ago, but this review is still totally topical to my Twitter feed. (Plus, it was only released two months ago in the US and for me that makes this review downright punctual.) Anyway, if you’ve somehow been living under a rock, One Direction is Simon Cowell’s Frankenstein: the reality TV manufactured boy band stitched together from remnants of solo artists, puppy dogs and lost dignity. They somehow managed to put together a pop album in between being chased by legions of shrieking teenage girls (… and, if the internet is any indication, other demographic groups) and it’s not terrible. In fact, it’s pretty good. It’s also generic and derivative (aka it’s pop music). So this will be less of a review and more of a guide to listening to Up All Night without actually listening to Up All Night.

The first track, and first single, “What Makes You Beautiful” is basically the song you would create if you put Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” over the guitar line from “Summer Nights”. It’s got the distinct pop polish of a Max Martin production (though not actually produced by Dr. Luke or Max Martin) and light lyrics about flipping hair and telling girls they’re beautiful. Basically, it’s exactly what the first single from a boyband in 2012 should sound like.

“Gotta Be You” is admittedly more generic than it is derivative. It sounds a bit like every Westlife song ever with a pre-chorus that recalls Katy Perry’s “Firework”, but its strongest association is in the opening grandiose strings it shares with Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”. Really, though, the most notable thing about the song is that they felt the need to record an American version of it, which as far as I can tell is the exact same song with like three words pronounced differently and fewer harmonies. Totally necessary. You know how we Americans hate our harmonies.

The second single in the US is “One Thing” which has a chorus that is stupidly catchy. And it should be, given that it shares a melodic line with the epitome of boyband pop, “I Want It That Way”. I actually cannot sing the song without replacing “You’ve got that one thing” with “I want it that way.” (Did I mention that the song was stupidly catchy? Because it really has been in my head for a week now. Damnit.)

It’s almost too easy to draw comparisons between One Direction’s “More Than This” with the Backstreet Boys’ “More Than That”, but I’m going to make the comparison anyway! As a bonus, in the name of singing equality “More Than This” contains some truly poor vocals on the second verse. Yo, One Direction, not everyone needs to have a solo.

On first listen, “Up All Night” pretty much could’ve been a cover of “Teenage Dream” to me, what with the strummy guitar line and loud, chanting chorus. Then I realized it also sounds sort of exactly like “Hummingbird Heartbeat” for the exact same reasons, which speaks volumes for just how generic Katy Perry and One Direction are. Either way, this track was clearly meant to namedrop and channel Katy Perry’s “sound.” (And by “sound” I do in fact mean vacant, disposable bubble gum infectiousness.)

When One Direction isn’t being a Katy Perry cover band, they do a good job as a Pink/Max Martin cover band. “I Wish” is just a less impressively sung version of Pink’s “Who Knew”. It also manages to be one of the few totally bland songs on the album. They needed to steal more of the melody from “Who Knew” and not just the song structure and guitar line.

I think every angst-ridden power pop song in the last six years can probably be traced back to Kelly Clarkson somehow. “Tell Me A Lie” is no different. It was co-written by Clarkson and could’ve been on her Breakaway album sitting next to “Since U Been Gone”. It’s so covered in Kelly Clarkson’s vibe that I’m almost surprised they bothered switching the pronouns. (Well, let’s be real, switching the pronouns seems unnecessary for more than that reason.)

“Taken” is Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper”. It’s the same melody all the way through, the same instrumentation and almost identical lyrics. Tedder gets a lot of crap for “Halo” and “Already Gone” but Toby Gad and Lindy Robbins’ “Taken” and “Skyscraper” are way more similar. I don’t understand how they managed to pawn this off as two separate songs.

I’m sure if I went digging long enough, I’d be able to trace “I Want” to some Europop song in the 90s, but for now I’m giving it credit as a fresh song. Pure pop synths and youthful energy that really can only be provided by a boy band manage to bring the song’s Queen-styled dramatics into the contemporary music landscape.

The most certifiably dance song on the album is “Everything About You” which begins by predictably sounding exactly like “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love”, the pinnacle of disposable, generic dance pop. Although, instead of the typical “I’m going to grope you on the dance floor” or “I’m super wasted” lyrics that usually accompany this beat, the immaculately coiffed crack-laced five sing about “taking it slow” and their “loving” without a hint of innuendo.

Every good pop album nowadays needs a Ryan Tedder ballad. It’s pretty much become the hallmark of a successful top 40 artist. “Same Mistakes” fills this role nicely with an orchestral synth and prominent bass drum borrowed straight from “Halo”. Also, for some reason I can’t get Chris Brown’s “Superhuman” out of my head but after listening to both songs multiple times the only logical conclusion I can draw is that I’m crazy. I’m pretty sure the melody of the chorus in “Same Mistakes” is totally stolen from somewhere, too, but because I can’t automatically recall it, it’s fair game.

It doesn’t take much of a reach to connect “Save You Tonight” to Swedish House Mafia’s “Save The World”. I mean, the lyrics are hardly even changed as One Direction’s “I wanna save your heart tonight” can pretty much be sung over “who’s gonna save the world tonight” without very much creative interpretation. More importantly, though, do we really believe that any of the One Direction kids are capable of saving hearts? Are they capable of performing exorcisms on demon babies? (There’s probably already One Direction / Twilight crossover fanfiction that addresses this question, actually.)

The album closes with “Stole My Heart”, an imitation of one of the greatest pop songs ever, “Dynamite”. I mean, is it even possible to listen to that distinct electro synth line and not want to throw your hands in the air and say ay-o? No, no it’s not.

TL;DR Up All Night, like One Direction itself, was manufactured in some pop factory by evil genius writers and producers with the sole intent of taking over the world.

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