Thursday 24 September 2015

maybe we're fireproof: one direction and the power of four

four is an album about survival, which is totally understandable given the year one direction have had.

for five years they have struggled to be taken seriously, but their performance at camden’s roundhouse this week might just be the turning point. the set was lacking in their older material, allowing 2014’s four to take centre stage, though hearing a packed out room full of teenage girls singing the words to little things louder than the boys themselves is guaranteed to make me lose my shit every time. 

four was also the turning point for me too, which may sound bizarre given that i’ve been a fan of one direction since their conception on the x factor five (FIVE!!!!) years ago. (i even remember watching harry’s audition; yes i am a harry girl; always have been, always will be.)

four, however, was the first album that made me take this band seriously. though i’ve loved all their albums, this was the one that cemented their position in the industry as a true force to be reckoned with, as four vocally (and instrumentally) talented individuals and not just a bunch of heartthrobs with fluffy fringes.

it’s no secret that one direction are undergoing a re-brand of sorts, and four was their transition into a more mature sound. and you know what, i think it just might be working. take my mother, who had never taken much notice of one direction beyond a brief crush on louis (i know) until the release of steal my girl, which she now cites as her favourite song of theirs. i’m also willing to bet that their x factor performance of where do broken hearts go, with rolling stone ronnie wood elicited cries of outrage from all the Real Music fans out there.

the comparisons to other musical legends also reflect a massive change in the band’s sound. four drew comparisons with fleetwood mac, while the guitar riffs on surprise single drag me down have been compared to the police. and in a move no one in the music world could ever have predicted, rolling stone (!!!) also published an excellent article about the band's most recent tour, which pretty much sums up four with this quote:

"the classic-rock-as-teen-pop thing is so avant-garde, the rest of the music world still hasn't found a way to imitate it"

i could talk at length about the incredible fan-base this band has accumulated over the years, and the incredibly vocal part harry styles has played in the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights, but for the intents and purposes of this blog, i am going to stick to the music. and besides, jezebel and pitchfork have pretty much said everything i could ever hope to articulate about my love for this band and its fans.

in my humble opinion, four did not get the recognition it deserved, as it was overshadowed largely by the departure of zayn malik from the band in march this year (where do broken hearts go, zayn?). not his fault, just a catastrophic timing error on their team’s part. but once i’d finished grieving long enough to properly listen to the album, i was amazed by what i heard. countless articles have been written about the musical impact of four in the industry, but i’m going to add my two cents anyway.

the album opens with the anthemic steal my girl, which as i've mentioned, is my mother's favourite song from the album. it's different, yet still the same. all the classic themes of love and adoration are covered but given a musical overhaul. lyrics that could, in any other situation, sound tired, clich├ęd - "she's been my queen since we were sixteen" - suddenly work. it's in that simple piano riff that opens the song and lingers in the background throughout. zayn's high notes at the end also deserve an honourable mention. the video is pretty fucking spectacular too, mostly in part due to danny devito's cameo appearance. (i'm only half joking)

next up is ready to run, which makes me want to do just that, to escape from the city and follow the sun. once again, the musical aspects of this song keep it current, and the combination of the acoustic and electric guitar is just divine. 

on where do broken hearts go, the band take a slight detour back to their power-pop roots. it would be a perfect song for a tipsy karaoke session with friends, releasing all those inhibitions and hidden feelings about the one that got away, and this is reflected in the lyrics. are you sleeping, baby, by yourself, or are you giving it to someone else? ouch. 

things take a reflective turn with night changes, the second (and final) single from the album, and the last video to feature zayn malik before his departure. on the first chorus, harry sings:

we're only getting older baby, 

and i've been thinking about it lately
does it ever drive you crazy,
just how fast the night changes?

and this phrase resonates with me far more than i feel it should. it's inevitable that we all grow older and things change, something i've experienced first hand leaving for university and subsequently my childhood best friend. but the chorus ends with the gentle reassurance that:

even when the night changes
it will never change me and you

perhaps it's odd to seek reassurance from a boy band put together on a reality show five years ago, but when a particular lyric speaks to you, it doesn't really matter who's singing it. 

the theme of reflection continues on fireproof, with the reassuring line it's been so long, it's been so long, we must be fireproof, and once again it reminds me that no matter where i am or what i'm doing, my friends and family back home will always be there when i return. 

the boys fast forward a couple of years in act my age, with the lyric i won't act my age, no i won't act my age, i'll still feel the same around you. i feel this so much, because i know that no matter what happens with my and my best friend, we'll always have our inside jokes and never take ourselves too seriously. 

finally we have my favourite song from the album, stockholm syndrome. while this song doesn't touch on the themes of reflection or survival in any way, it's intense in an entirely different way.

oh baby look what you've done to me

oh baby look what you've done now
i'll never leave if you keep holding me this way

it's a love that's all consuming, emotionally and physically, and the production of this track drew comparisons to tears for fears, with the infectious chorus and guitar riffs. there's something dark within this song, a side i would love one direction to explore further in their next album.

speaking of the new album, the boys announced (also this week) that it will be called made in the AM, and is expected to be released november 13th. so far we've heard drag me down, and another surprise single, infinity. i have to be honest, i wasn't crazy about this one when i first heard it, but the intensity of the mid section breakdown, with it's coldplay-like guitar hook makes me want to keep listening to it for infinity, never wanting it to end. 

speculation about the future of the world's biggest band following their hiatus next year is rife, but if this is the last album we get from them for a while, i have a feeling it will, with the ongoing promise of a more mature sound, be enough to tide us over while they take a well deserved break. 

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