Aaron Royce, Contributing Writer
Amid a stormy news cycle, Niall Horan’s “Heartbreak Weather” dropped on Friday. With a bright set of soothing tracks it’s a decent album from the former boy band member that does little to progress his solo career.
It would be impossible to mention Horan without the context of One Direction. So far, every band member has released a debut solo album, except Louis Tomlinson. Horan is the third to release a sophomore album after Zayn Malik and Harry Styles, respectively. The understandable hype around the former bandmates’ new music was apparent from radio play in 2016, especially for Malik’s much-heralded “Mind of Mine.”
But this second wave of albums begs the question: Where do they go from here? “Heartbreak Weather” doesn’t provide an answer for Horan’s future.
The Beatles wouldn’t be complete without George Harrison. The Jonas Brothers wouldn’t be complete without Kevin. Similarly, One Direction wasn’t complete without Horan. Though he wasn’t a lead singer, Horan was always present and had his own role to play as the band’s sweet, shy member. That background attitude led to speculation for his music’s direction concerning his lack of a bold persona like Styles’ or Malik’s.
When his solo career began, Horan’s debut album, “Flicker,” was reminiscent of his late One Direction years. It was contemporary pop bait — slower and softer than One Direction for a more folksy, soothing and romantic sound — that gave him a stronger musical identity and promised a quality follow-up album.
“The optimistic themes of love and companionship in this feel-good album make it one that many could use right now with mounting virus and recession fears.” — Aaron Royce
However, “Heartbreak Weather” sounds more like an upbeat pop companion. It’s not a bad album, but as a full work it doesn’t show Horan’s musical advancement.
The pop sound is a step backward from “Flicker,” although lead single “Nice to Meet Ya” previewed a well-received alternative-rock sound.
That sound change is the main flaw of “Heartbreak Weather.” Since the album is more pop-sounding, its status is good or just fine.
If Horan had continued the Arctic Monkeys-like sound he experimented with on “Nice to Meet Ya,” the whole album would have been more cohesive and formed a new chapter for a promising solo career. But it doesn’t provide an overall notable sound, and the trajectory Horan earned from “Flicker” hasn’t stuck.
“Nice to Meet Ya” is a louder rock ballad that, as a lead single, was anticipated as the album’s defining sound. That isn’t the case, and it remains the best song on “Heartbreak Weather” because it advances Horan’s genre fluidity.
“No Judgment” and “Bend the Rules” are similar in their optimistic themes, which permeate throughout the album. “Bend the Rules” contains borderline country, velvety vocals which are a good near-genre switch.
However, songs like “Black and White,” “Still” and “Put a Little Love on Me” are too quiet and overwhelm the album’s best tracks with generic, romantic lyrics that are reminiscent of old One Direction and less of new Horan. They don’t make a lasting impression or show artistic growth.
The optimistic themes of love and companionship in this feel-good album make it one that many could use right now with mounting virus and recession fears.
However, with a release in the first weekend of a global pandemic and a current lack of artistic progression, it’s unclear how many will tune in — though Horan’s tour will continue as planned next month. Hopefully, a future third album will show greater improvement.