Sunday, November 15, 2015

All My Favorite Conversations: A "Made In The A.M." Album Review [Contributor: Jaime]

As anyone who follows me on Twitter, or has ever been within a hundred-mile radius of me, knows, I am a huge One Direction fan. I’ve been a fan for about three years, since right before their second album Take Me Home was released. Since then, they’ve embarked on three world tours, released two more albums, lost a band member, and gotten dozens of tattoos. But despite their fame and millions of Twitter followers, they’re just four guys who love their fans and making music. Each album they’ve made has been a big step forward in terms of their sound and skills as musicians, and their newest album Made In The A.M. continues that tradition.

A far cry from the bubblegum pop sound that made them famous with their first single “What Makes You Beautiful,” Made In The A.M. is a rather eclectic mix of styles. There’s pop, of course, but the only real traditional pop song is their new single “Perfect.” Otherwise every song is pop with an edge: rock, country, even a little bit of funk. And then there are some songs that defy categorization entirely.

One Direction challenges public perception and their own comfort zones with every album they make. It’s impossible to write them off as being just another boy band – they’re strong musicians and songwriters, and that’s never been more clear than Made In The A.M. In interviews, the boys have explained that in writing the album, they got together and established a concept or theme that they wanted to carry throughout. It’s a hard task to pull off, but they’ve made it possible to track the moods of each song: it starts a little upbeat, like the beginning of a night out with friends, and slowly starts getting more nostalgic, until all that’s left are the last few hours of the night and the friends by your side.

I’ve got a lot to say about this album, and I’m sure I’m not the only person madly in love with it. So let’s go track-by-track and discuss what makes Made In The A.M. so great:

1. Hey Angel

I come alive when I hear your voice; it’s a beautiful sound, it’s a beautiful noise. 

The album’s opening track serves as a powerful kickoff to everything the listener is about to experience - and trust me, there’s a lot to experience. With an almost immediate beat drop and some wistful “woos” in the background supplied by Liam, it’s almost inviting you in. Once it gets to the chorus, which is kept simple with only a few lines (“Oh I wish I could be more like you. Do you wish you could be more like me?”), you’re drawn in. Fans have picked up on similarities to The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” or to some U2 songs. Those similarities seem intentional: it makes the song familiar and accessible, within other pop music and One Direction’s own catalogue. At the same time, it’s still a bit different from the band’s previous sounds, making it clear right off the bat that this album is going to be a very big departure for them.

2. Drag Me Down 

I got a river for a soul and baby you’re a boat, baby you’re my only reason. Speaking of big departures. 

“Drag Me Down” was the first single, released in July, and was such an unexpected move. For one thing, it was the first new song released by the band after they became a foursome, and it’s easy to see even just in this song how their changed roster forced them to reevaluate how they use their voices and distribute parts to build a song. Where former member Zayn Malik used to get the high notes and lead harmonies, now those jobs have gone to Harry Styles and Liam Payne (at least in this song). The band had to start functioning differently, and as a result, their music had to develop differently. And this song certainly is different for them: it’s got kind of a funk feel to it, which isn’t a style usually explored by boy bands. But they manage to pull it off, and it was the best possible way to introduce their new sound to the world.


3. Perfect 

Girl I hope you’re sure what you’re looking for cause I’m not good at making promises. 

“Perfect” is One Direction’s new single, and... well, let’s just say it’s not as good a choice as “Drag Me Down.” The song is fun: it’s catchy, and it was partially written by Harry and Louis, which is always a good thing. It’s kind of based on their media images, presenting an image of what their lives are like. Too reckless for a serious relationship, having to sneak around, causing trouble in hotel rooms. It’s fun but not particularly deep – a quintessential pop song, basically. Ultimately, I like the song but it’s not the best choice for a single: that straightforward pop sound just isn’t representative of the album as a whole, or even of the band. Sure, that’s the image most of the general public has of One Direction, but that’s not who they are anymore.

4. Infinity 

How many nights does it take to count the stars? That’s the time it would take to fix my heart. 

Like “Perfect,” “Infinity” is maybe closer to some of One Direction’s previous albums, particularly Four. But the differences between “Infinity” and some of the other songs on MITAM are where the eclectic vibe of the album really comes through. It’s sort of a straightforward song, though there’s a depth to the lyrics and the music that isn’t necessarily immediately clear. The song is repetitive, with the same lyrics making up both verses, but the rising music helps that repetition work more as a way for the song to build on itself. It all culminates in a pretty epic beat drop that makes me start dancing every time I listen to the song while walking my dog. My neighbors don’t like me.

5. End of the Day

I told her that I loved her, was not sure if she heard. The roof was pretty windy and she didn’t say a word. 

One Direction writes a lot of love songs. That’s just a fact. A related fact is that I will never, ever get tired of listening to One Direction’s love songs. “End of the Day” might be one of the best love songs they’ve ever come up with: the chorus is confident, an unwavering claim that at the end of the day, the speaker just wants to be with the object of his desire. It’s bold, but there’s a hidden vulnerability in the verses that sort of counteract the chorus. There’s also a story being told in the verses; this isn’t just a generic love song, but rather something the speaker is feeling in one particular moment, hidden away upstairs at a party. It’s upbeat and catchy, and includes one of Louis’ best solos on the album (or maybe ever).

6. If I Could Fly 

I’ve got scars even though they can’t always be seen. The pain gets hard but now you’re here and I don’t feel a thing. 

Again: One Direction loves love songs. But “If I Could Fly” is nothing like they’ve ever made before. It’s a slow and aching sort of love, one so strong that it hurts to be separated. It’s that idea, and the complexity of the lyrics, that strengthen the song and reveal its maturity. This isn’t a song about telling other people how much you’re in love, or defending how well you know the person you love. This is a direct appeal to that person, knowing that what you feel is reciprocated, offering them your heart and pleading for them to take it. One of my favorite little bits comes near the end, when all four singers take a line, which leads into them singing together. One Direction has never done that before – each singer will take part of a verse, or sing together in harmony. But that small moment of giving them all a turn, then joining together, creates cohesiveness to the song, and lets all the threads created by their different voices finally come together.

7. Long Way Down

Built a cathedral but we never prayed. We had it all, yeah, but we walked away. 

Every One Direction fan remembers where they were when Zayn left. His departure must have coincided with when the other boys began writing MITAM, so it’s inevitable that whatever they were going through at the time would find its way into the music. And while it comes up in bits and pieces in other songs, it’s the heart of “Long Way Down.” There’s kind of a country vibe to this song that instills wistfulness to the lyrics, as if it wasn’t already emotional enough. It’s a really pretty song, and relatively simple. For a band known for their pop music, they’ve gotten skilled at knowing when to pull back and let the words and emotions speak for themselves.

8. Never Enough 

Lips so good I forget my name. I swear I could give you everything. 

This might be one of the weirdest songs they’ve ever done, and by that, I mean it’s incredible. With fast, rhythmic verses and enthusiastic chanting in the background (“AHUUA”), it’s very, very odd, but so much fun. Liam’s definitely the star of this one, supplying most of the background noises that, by the end of the song, turn into weird screaming. It’s obvious how much fun the boys had with this song, and that joy is infectious. Listen to it without bouncing along, I dare you.

 9. Olivia 

When you’re gone and I’m alone, you live in my imagination. Summertime and butterflies all belong to your creation. 

This is another weird one, but in totally different ways than “Never Enough”. It’s just as bouncy, but with clear Beatles influences. There are horns accompanying it, and it has a Willy Wonka-inspired bridge that makes next to no sense but, needless to say, is amazing. So far this has emerged as a fan favorite, and it’s definitely a standout from the album. It’s One Direction at their best: the song is fun but it’s not filler. There’s something going on in it, and for as bouncy and lighthearted as it is, it’s actually pretty musically complex. And it features yet another brilliant solo from Louis, so, serious contender for best song on the album.

10. What a Feeling 

When the air ran out and we both started running wild, the sky fell down. But you’ve got stars in your eyes and I’ve got something missing tonight. 

This might be the coolest song on the album, hands down. The music’s got a very ‘70s feel to it, and the lyrics are a bit more abstract than what the band usually offers. I’ve never even really listened to Fleetwood Mac and yet the influences are obvious all over this song. Older songs of theirs are clear emulations of other famous songs, but this is really the first time that One Direction tried to emulate a band that’s actually inspired them. Compare this song and its ‘70s influences to something like “Does He Know,” which sounds an awful lot like “Jesse’s Girl”. With this, it’s not so much that they tried to make a song Fleetwood Mac might make, or that fans of Fleetwood Mac would respond to (where most of their familiar-sounding music seems like it’s just trying to appeal to rock fans), but rather that they responded to a different style and different sound and wanted to push themselves to make something similar. “What a Feeling” is an incredibly mature song, and definitely one of the most interesting in terms of its overall sound.

11. Love You Goodbye 

One more taste of your lips just to bring me back to the places we’ve been and the nights we’ve had, because if this is it then at least we could end it right. 

Like I said above, I will never get tired of One Direction’s love songs. I will also never get tired of their break-up songs, which is good, since there are so many of them. But usually their break-up songs are more along the lines of how sad they are now that their true love is gone. “Love You Goodbye” is a little different: it’s not so much about being sad as it is about, hey, you’re already leaving me, let’s have one last good memory. But even then, it’s only really about a romantic break-up on the surface; if you ignore the relatively minor references to love and sex, it’s really just about having to say goodbye to someone important and wanting to see them one last time. That universal quality to the lyrics rounds the song out a bit more, and if you weren’t already a fan of it by the bridge, then Louis’ solo is sure to pull you in. I could go on and on about how well he’s used on this album, but then we’d be here all day, so just know that he’s used amazingly well and his high note in this song will probably be what ends me to an early grave.

12. I Want to Write You a Song 

I want to build you a boat, one as strong as you are free. So anytime you think that your heart is gonna sink, you know that it won’t. 

As is the case with “Long Way Down,” “I Want to Write You a Song” shines because it’s so pared down. It’s a very simple song, both in lyrics and melody, and almost sounds like a lullaby. It’s so pure and earnest, with some pretty clear similarities to “Blackbird”. The song itself is just cozy; every time I listen to it, it makes me want to curl up with a blanket and some tea and get lost in it. It’s so endearingly sweet, and for as simple and straightforward as it is, there’s so much emotion and comfort in the boys’ voices, especially Louis during the chorus. Pro tip: don’t imagine singing this song to your eventual children. Just don’t. It won’t end well.

13. History 

Cause the truth is out, I realized that without you here, life is just a lie. This is not the end, this is not the end, we can make it, you know it, you know. 

So, all right. It’s time to address the relatively large elephant that’s been following One Direction around for the last few months. They announced recently that they’ll be going on hiatus in the spring, giving themselves a much-needed break and transitioning to a more reasonable schedule. Considering that they’ve put out five albums in five years and gone on four world tours, yeah, they probably deserve a break. Much like Zayn’s departure, the knowledge that they were going to slow down seeped into the writing of this album, and “History” is very much a message to the fans, acknowledging everything the band has been through with their support. It’s the last song on the standard version of the album, and what a perfect sendoff. Like the album opener “Hey Angel,” there’s familiarity in the song – it sounds very reminiscent of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” which we’ve all cried to, right? That familiarity creates such a strong back-up to the lyrics, which are thankful and nostalgic of all the memories the band and its fans have shared.

14. Temporary Fix 

The night is on your lips and I feel like I’m locked in. There’s a million eyes, I don’t care if they’re watching. Your body’s saying everything, I don’t have to read your mind. 

As a dedicated One Direction fan in her early twenties, there’s nothing I hate more than people who know nothing about the band who assume all their music sounds like “What Makes You Beautiful.” You know, cheesy, generic pop music with nothing going on beneath the surface. Off the top of my head, I could list dozens of their songs with complex lyrics and melodies that could change any person’s opinion. That said, my absolute favorite One Direction songs always tend to be the fast, pop rock-y, lighthearted songs about casual sex. Sue me. I’m kind of a hypocrite. And that’s exactly what “Temporary Fix” is. It’s about friends with benefits, and that’s basically it. It sort of feels like the night before the events described in “No Control,” a song from their previous album Four – and I love “No Control”. This song is just so much fun, and I’ve been known to restart it once or twice (or more) when it comes on while I’m out running. Harry’s solo is such a vocal standout: he sings his part loosely, and it’s less about nailing each note and more about creating a certain feeling. And thanks to “No Control,” we all know how that ends.

15. Walking in the Wind 

The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye means we’ve already won. The necessity for apologies between you and me, baby there is none. 

I’ve already talked about how this album is stylistically eclectic, but “Walking in the Wind” might be the biggest departure for One Direction. Harry’s described it as being inspired by Paul Simon, where the verses are a little closer to spoken word than they are to traditional melodies. It arguably has the most complex and poetic lyrics on the album, and something about the slow, winding verses is so calming. If, like I said earlier, you view this album as sort of tracking a night out, this is where the night starts to come to a close. Something about the song seems like a goodbye, though it’s not sad; nostalgic, maybe, and a little bittersweet, but not sad. Like it’s more of a parting than a split. I’ve seen it suggested that this song is also about Zayn leaving, and I can see that; it’s not so much about the actual pain of him leaving, necessarily, but maybe more so in the time before he left. To me, this mostly seems like a song about knowing you’re going to have to say goodbye, but not quite being there yet.

16. Wolves

In the middle of the night when the wolves come out, heading straight for your heart, like a bullet in the dark...

Again: for whatever reason, it’s always the fun, lighthearted songs that get me. There’s not a ton going on in this song beneath the surface, but it’s one of my favorites on the album. It’s just so bouncy. Liam described it as being about when you’re out with your partner and people try to hit on your partner, even though you’re right there. Look, I don’t know, this song is just so much fun, okay, I don’t make the rules.

17. A.M. 

You and me were raised in the same part of town, got these scars on the same ground. 

This is it – the close to the night. For such a simple, relaxed song, it does a wonderful job of concluding the album and tying up all its themes. The song is all about familiarity, through hanging out with your friends, but also about goodbyes, in watching the night slip away, and about their own goodbye, through the reminder “you know I’m always coming back to this place.” There are a few lenses that can be applied to this song: on one hand, it’s about being with your friends after a long night, where everything is fuzzy around the edges but warm at its center. It’s also a goodbye to the fans, in the reluctance to leave but knowing it’s for the best. And maybe most importantly, it’s recalling all the times they’ve had together as band-mates, remembering what they’ve been through. While “History” is the perfect ending note to the album proper, “A.M.” is the perfect ending to the extended album, considering the more bittersweet emotions stirred up in “Walking in the Wind”. It reconciles that feeling with the rest of the album by creating such a strong image of sitting around with your friends, drinking and laughing at nothing. It’s about memories, good or bad, and what they invoke. This is what I meant when I called the album nostalgic; for as much as this album is propelling One Direction forward in terms of their career and what they’re capable of musically, something about this album is holding onto the past and not quite letting go.

Made In The A.M. is available now, in stores and on iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify, among countless other legal venues. Check it out if you haven’t already, and if you have, let me know your favorite songs and/or the times you thought Louis Tomlinson shone the brightest.


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