If you follow Niall Horan on any social media, you’ll see that his life after One Direction is simple. Snapchats from his Saturday nights are shots of the golf course he’s playing with his buddies, beer in hand, an Eagles’ song in the background. His life is so regular that I thought he would like to keep it that way and live off of his One Direction money for the rest of his life.
So that’s why I was surprised when he threw himself back into the industry with his debut single “This Town,” and the announcement of his debut album. “Flicker” came out Oct. 20, complete with 10 songs and three additional ones on the deluxe album.
Listening to “Flicker” was like talking to an old friend—a repetitive, borderline-annoying friend that only talks about their relationships. His boring normality transgresses to this new album; the lyrics are shallow, and words are selected to (cheaply) rhyme rather than convey any meaning.
Listeners can sense that nothing too exciting happened in his relationships. From the sounds of it, the breakups he describes were probably amicable and nothing gut-wrenching or even remotely moving happened; he just had to draw from these bland relationships because there’s not much else in his life that he can write about. It was either golf or this. So he chose the girl to capitalize on.
The album kicks off with “On the Loose,” intended to be a warning to the next guy who this ambiguous, rebellious “she” antagonist reels in. A throbbing bassline is layered with clean, crisp guitar plucks and invites fans Horan’s smooth voice and underlying Irish accent. Opening the album, Horan sings, “I know what she’s like / She’s out of her mind / And wraps herself around the truth.” At this point, I already knew this was going to be a long ride.
This cheap writing isn’t any better in track two, “This Town,” the first single off the album. It’s a little narrative about a girl in his hometown. However, he quickly clarified the subject in an interview: “It’s not really about anyone in particular. When I’m writing songs, I write the concepts and then just write the scenario and then write the song around it,” Horan said.
What he’s saying is that while he does draw on personal experience, he’s kind of just writing whatever comes to mind. This explains the lack of emotion in his tracks, despite the sensitive subject matter like going home to Mullingar, Ireland in “This Town,” and an unrequited love in “Too Much to Ask” that could have been emotionally provoking if he had done it correctly.
In the chorus of “Paper Houses,” Horan shamelessly rhymes “stars” with “scars,” and “apart” with “far.” You’d think he would have a more extensive vocabulary from touring the world in his boy band days. His diction is overall meager, unexciting and unstimulating.
Despite this weakness, “Flicker” has its good moments. I have nothing bad to say about “Slow Hands”; it’s definitely my favorite song on the album. It’s upbeat, bass line driven and even a little risque. It’s a good pop song that I wouldn’t mind listening to even after writing this album review. Horan is also very strong on “Seeing Blind,” which contains the only feature on the album. Arlington-born country singer Maren Morris and Horan complement each other very well, merging together in melodious harmonies.
Though in an Instagram post Horan deemed this album as “the first time [he has] put [his] thoughts and emotions on paper,” (what did he do in One Direction?) I realized that that might not be the case. This album was written to sell, not written to be eloquent, perfect prose. And it does the job. Billboard said that “Flicker” is on the way to being a number one album, selling 150,000 copies in the first week it was released.
I will say that this album is good, but that’s it—just good. It’s just so plain that it wouldn’t have gotten this much recognition if he didn’t already have a fan base of millions of girls from One Direction. However, this is just an indication of where Horan can go. I can tell that behind every cheap lyric is a beautifully phrased sentence awaiting its premiere. Maybe he should take some demos to our English Department.
Story by Cheryl Hao, Web Editor
Photo courtesy of iTunes