No Zayn, no gain: One Direction's latest album is easily forgettable, lackluster effort

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With an impending two-year hiatus, British boy band One Direction’s latest LP, Made in the A.M., leaves the foursome with a lot to prove.

A.M., their first release since Zayn Malik’s departure reduced the group to a quartet, is a lackluster but agreeable collection of arena-sized anthems and polished pop.

The band’s previous album, Four, revealed the type of growth that earned its continued domination of the pop charts. A.M. continues exploring these classic rock elements. “What A Feeling” draws heavily on ’70s influences and enters a relaxed, understated groove. It’s hard to ignore the similarities between “Walking In the Wind” and Paul Simon’s Graceland classic “You Can Call
Me Al.”

Together with the rock star imagery of champagne, private planes and hotel room hookups on songs such as “History,” the foursome occasionally attempts to position themselves as soft-core rock ’n’ rollers but often oversteps. Instead, they are at their best on songs like “Olivia,” a charming tune that shows the boy band — in which the oldest member, Louis Tomlinson, is only 23 years old — can still have youthful, self-aware fun.

A standout from the album’s first few tracks, “Perfect” features some of the group’s boldest lyrics to date. When Harry Styles propositions, “If you like the cameras flashing every time we go out/If you’re looking for someone/to write your breakup songs about/Baby, I’m perfect,” he points a finger at ex-girlfriend Taylor Swift’s Styles-inspired chart-topper “Style.” The thinly veiled reference is a departure from the often-vague lyrical mush on songs such as album opener “Hey Angel,” and it pays off.

At 17 songs, Made in the A.M. continues the boys’ trend of producing ridiculously long albums in a period of time as short as one year. With so much material, it’s no wonder many of the songs on A.M. are easily forgettable surplus. The album’s overall effect could be vastly improved through some self-editing to pare down the tracklist by nixing the boring “I Want to Write You a Song” and “Never Enough,” a tune that undermines the band’s overall musical growth.

Even tracks that end up as musical fillers manage to provide pleasant and easy listening. “Infinity,” with its larger-than-life chorus, was clearly written with stadium tours in mind but lacks the substance and energy it would take to sell it to an at-home listener.

The stomping “End of the Day” tells a lessons-learned love story and makes for a comfortable sing-along.  “Long Way Down” and “If I Could Fly” provide downtempo, sweet-as-syrup romance sure to capture the hearts of teenage girls around the world. On “Love You Goodbye” and “Temporary Fix,” the band gets PG-13, begging a former flame, “Even though it’s over you should stay tonight,” and dropping the line, “All I can see is you waking up in my T-shirt … Even if it’s just tonight.”

Overall, One Direction fails to include anything as good as Four’s “Steal My Girl” or its predecessor, Midnight Memories’, hit “Story of My Life,” but they do produce a solid collection of stadium pop to satisfy any die-hard 1D fan as the band prepares for an its impending hiatus.

Most importantly, Made in the A.M. shows that One Direction can turn out a successful and diverse LP, even without Malik’s signature falsetto croon, allowing the group to smoothly transition into its post-Zayn era.

Album: Made in the A.M.
Genre: Pop
Tracks: 17
Rating: 2.5/5 stars