It is 2016, the first year of the decade without One Direction.
They are on “hiatus”.
Hiatus. Such a band word. I hate it.
Imagine: “Babe, I’m not breaking up, I just want us to take a hiatus.”
Hiatus offers no closure.
I am reminded of Spencer’s indignation on The Hills when Heidi suggest they take a “relationship vacation”.
Their final album, which came out November 13th 2015, was the first without Zayn Malik, who left the band in February of that year to become “a normal 22-year-old”. It was to be their fifth album.
Five albums in five years.
They were looking a bit…ravaged.
Bags under Louis’ eyes, sadness in Liam’s. Niall looked alright but definitely was an old soul. Though Harry still radiated pleasure, these were no longer the summer-faced boys of 2010.
Can you blame them?
Non-stop albums, tours, movies, perfumes. They did so much. There were times I was convinced they were being mismanaged. That surely this was too much and the music would suffer.
But it never did.
Julian Bunetta and John Ryan deserve credit there. First appearing on album two, these writer-producers essentially became showrunners. Developing the template set out by ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and writing in collaboration with the boys, they helped deliver a new record, of coherance and quality, every year.
All the new songs to devour!
Going to miss that.
That One Direction were so prolific allowed for natural growth, without need for giant leaps or stylistic revolutions, until, here we were, five albums in…
What band goes beyond five? More significantly, what goes beyond five? Retread, filler, awkward reinvention followed by self-proclaimed return-to-form.
Five feels good.
Five albums, five years.
2010 to 2015.
Saying goodbye to One Direction got me thinking. Their first single, ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, came out the month I moved to London. My London Chapter has been up and down but One Direction, you were a constant. A constant joy.
I saw them perform only once, in April 2013, at the O2 Arena, on the Take Me Home tour.
(Memory I cannot shake: Fathers leading their daughters out before the encore. Before ‘Live While We’re Young’ and ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. No doubt to “beat the traffic”. I hated those fathers.)
The show was fun but lacked spectacle. There were no dancers and the boys don’t dance, they only bounce. I could not see their longevity. I thought they needed more. But I am an idiot.
They were still children then. The cigarettes, bongs and engagements, still to come. As were expansive songs like ‘Story of My Life’, ‘You and I’, ‘Night Changes’. And, of course, the loss of a member.
I am glad Zayn left.
The Prodigal Son narrative is essential. Robbie Williams, Geri Halliwell, Charlie Simpson. The trauma to see your band lose a member, and then continue, weakened but stoic.
To then witness the impossible – after acrimony, denials, bad wishes – to see them together again!
Which is why I find the “hiatus” so frustrating.
It dulls feelings of incredulity, joy and relief at the reunion.
ii. One last time
Tell me the album is dead – we are in a streaming playlist age – and I am nostalgic Mr Anachronism to place such emphasis on the album.
And yet I keep hearing great album albums.
No one of merit has renounced the album – the only people to renounce any art form are the Olds, disillusioned and dull business types who, be it novels, painting, movies, just DO NOT LIKE ART.
There are times for shuffle or a one-hour loop of ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’. But I return to the album when I want that journey only it can provide.
In the eighties, nineties, albums expanded to fill a compact disc. Today Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz makes a statement with its 90 minutes. But the album classic keeps coming back to ten, maybe eleven, songs, under 40 minutes – that golden spot, evolved from artistic, economic, technical influences.
Today, the album anchors in the sprawl of content and 360° branding. It transcends commercial interests. Yes, the album still pays – great albums are big sellers – but also it tempts and challenges: Is there a Thriller in you?
Why does Justin Bieber take four years writing hundreds of songs to make Purpose? Because he is developing his craft, reaching for a higher plane of art-making.
Therefore, just as we had to hear one Zayn-less LP before letting them go, One Direction had to see if they had it in them.
Bunetta commented on its making that this was “the first time of there being some uncertainty, of not having things planned out beforehand.”
Would there be signs that it marked the end? Would it be a fitting goodbye? Leave us wanting more or be an album too far? And the effect of Zayn’s departure? Would there be messages to him, coded and explicit?
So many questions.
Then came the announcement of the title.
Made in the AM.
Not elegant. Like a title born of struggle and deadline-meeting. I favour AM – succinct, holds the sense of change, of beginning and end, while carrying other, significant AM-connotations (After Malik).
It had an artless cover photograph. A loveless shot of the band. The record lacked a clear visual identity. One that could help tell us: Who are they now?
Going into this then, confidence was not high.
The album held the unenviable position of following after Four, which is a flawless masterpiece. There is not a bad song on Four.
On November 13th, I would discover the same could not be said of Made in the AM.
It had four songs on it that were really lame.
The deluxe edition came with four AMAZING bonus tracks.
Therefore in a song-by-song discussion, I will mark deleted tracks with red and promote bonus tracks with blue, to propose an alternative/improved tracklisting.
This would go. Neither interesting nor dynamic, it is no way to open an album.
The word “angel” is a no-no. If there were a sense of evangelical belief in angels, then fine. But hardly ever do I believe the person singing about angels believes in angels. Angels are being used as a shortcut.
The problem with clichés is you let one in then that laziness informs the rest of the song.
‘Drag Me Down’
They screwed with the formula.
Previous albums open with the lead single: ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, ‘Live While We’re Young’, ‘Best Song Ever’ and ‘Steal My Girl’. Therefore this – THE LEAD SINGLE – hard-edged, confident – this should open the album.
How this could be demoted to the bonus bin is unfathomable.
My theory: It represented the ‘old’ One Direction – reckless, feel-good pop-rock – the kind of stuff that forced Zayn to escape in search of “real music”.
No doubt, Management – ancient denim men – argued to keep it. In this case I side with the bastards. Because ‘Temporary Fix’ is fantastic. A direct hit, from wedding party to indie disco.
It should be track two as it maintains the energy while offering a happier counterpart to ‘Drag Me Down’. It also connects thematically to the next song.
“I might never be the one you take home to mother.”
The album exposes a kind of itinerant loneliness and lack of romantic love. Whether labelling themselves a “temporary fix” or the grim offer of a “secret little rendezvous”, One Direction have found themselves incapable of achieving lasting connection. “If you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about.” There is a continual sense of low self-esteem.
‘Perfect’ slows the pace but has a powerful, driving beat.
Very by-the-numbers. How could it not be? A title like ‘Infinity’ will never inspire.
This was the second song to be pre-released. Coming out alongside the announcement of the title and cover artwork, you understand my worries in the run-up to the release of the album.
‘Walking in the Wind’
Immense. Effortlessly switches between quiet and loud. Packs emotional punch. Such a rich work. I put it here because, with its dancing guitar line, it segues beautifully from the heaviness of ‘Perfect’.
That guitar, light and fluid, so reminiscent of Ray Phiri’s playing on Graceland, and the distinctive “awoo” harmonies put me in mind of Paul Simon.
In it they sing: “It’s not the end, I’ll see your face again.”
Two words that appear on many occasions throughout the album. It is a recurring motif.
‘End of the Day’
Brash, disorienting. Its collaged quality probably the result of there being eight writers! This marks the first appearance of what I call a ‘Louis Bridge’. Something about his voice – that it strains, perhaps – provides an emotive drama. He is the go-to Directioner for an emotional bridge.
‘End of the Day’ opens with a verse (as good as any chorus) that is 100% pure Maroon 5. Which suggests the tantalising prospect: ‘End of the Day feat. Adam Levine’.
(I never paid much attention to Adam Levine until I fell in love with him in the movie Begin Again. There he plays Keira Knightley’s rockstar scrub (ex-)boyfriend. Throughout the movie, he grows more and more douchebaggy – first wearing a beanie and then growing a gigantic beard. Great movie, unforgettable performance.)
One Direction and Adam Levine.
Can. You. Imagine.
‘If I Could Fly’
One of the very worst. Very off-brand for One Direction.
Nothing against a piano ballad but when it’s got those maudlin, plodding chord changes…so many stinking up pop these days.
The personal in pop can just be bleak.
Justin Bieber’s Purpose (released the same day as Made in the AM) has plenty classics but also an introspective streak that strays into the self-pitying and sulky. “They tried to crucify me,” he sings.
Such introspection would not suit One Direction. This final album has the occasional line – e.g. “good Champagne and private planes” – that does perturb. So it is good they take a break.
This one’s got swagger. Its inclusion would add some energy, currently dissipated on sleepers like ‘If I Could Fly’. In doing so, it would put us in a better place to fully appreciate the slow (but solid) song which is to follow.
Including this bonus track, however, would raise a significant problem: Two instances of a ‘heart / dark’ rhyme on the album.
‘Long Way Down’
We had a mountain
But took it for granted
We had a spaceship
But we couldn’t land it
We found an island
But we got stranded
Lyrically brilliant, this tearjerker would have made a phones-aloft moment had they toured Made in the AM.
Can barely bring myself to look at Niall’s Twitter. Always with the golf! IS HE MAD? But, when recently I did look, he had written: “My favourite song is never enough... It’s really fun and different than anything we’ve done before.”
Is how it starts. A big, manly grunt. Immediately we are snapped out of the ‘Long Way Down’ slumber. Literally. It is a finger-clicking banger.
Paul Simon’s influence felt again.
Maybe this could have been ‘Never Enough feat. Paul Simon’?
I champion such collaborations, not like superfluous guest verses from rappers on pop songs, but because it would be nice to have seen a post-Zayn opening up on this album. Apart from that time Ronnie Wood popped on stage, there have not been many collaborations. When critics talk of “hermetically-sealed anthems” and “vacuum-sealed bubble-gum world”, I wonder if it is because they sense a weird isolation in One Direction.
‘Never Enough’ is compact, balanced, fully formed. Really fresh. It is goofy but goofy trumps moody any day.
I resent Name Songs. Songs for Lylas, Julies, Lolas, Janes, Eleanors, Kellys, Candys. Who are these people? If One Direction sing a love song, I want to imagine they are singing to me, not Olivia.
Something Beatles-esque pastichey is going on here and it just does not convince.
‘What a Feeling’
Following ‘Never Enough’, the good vibes and rhythms would continue with ‘What a Feeling’, a groovy number with disco flavourings. When the harmonies kick in it sounds like Fleetwood Mac, which is apt considering Mick Fleetwood’s claim to be Harry Styles’ penpal.
Here I switch the existing tracklisting. I just find the original meeting of ‘What a Feeling’ and ‘Love You Goodbye’ too jarring. Placing ‘AM’ here sets us up for the serious sequence that closes the album.
‘AM’ is a real group singalong. “We’re just…talking out of our asses,” they sing – once again, the self-esteem not high. The song has a drunken, end-of-night sadness. In it they ask, “Won’t you stay to the end?”
‘Love You Goodbye’
“If tomorrow you won’t be mine, won’t you give it to me one last time?”
The power chord.
The dual meanings – “It’s inevitable everything that’s good comes to an end.”
Louis’ impeccable bridge of sheer emotion.
Its escalation – it builds and pulls back, builds and pulls back – before exploding into air-punching orgasm.
This song has it all.
“All instruments by Julian Bunetta” – what an artist.
‘I Want to Write You a Song’
Not my favourite. It is a bit Beatles-esque. My issue with Beatles-esque being that it is always cutesy and pointless. Beatles-esque is Take That’s default too. I just don’t know who these songs are for. Some imaginary blue-rinse grandma in a deck chair waving a Union Jack while Mark Owen rides by on a penny-farthing wearing a bowler is no one’s idea of a good time.
‘I Want to Write You a Song’ isn’t all bad. It would be too much epicness to have ‘Love You Goodbye’ and ‘History’ next to each other, and many will be touched by its sentiment. It is nice to hear a more innocent love song after the sordid hotel room rendezvous.
What a song to leave us on.
“Background vocals by One Direction, Directioners, Julian Bunetta, John Ryan, Joe Ryan, Damon Bunetta…”
Everybody wanted in on this.
“Thought we were going strong, thought we were holding on, aren’t we?” With lyrics such as that, it is hard to believe they are addressing not only the fans but also each other.
‘History’ is happy, sad, fab, goofy, heartfelt and feels like The End.
Though on Louis’ impeccable bridge of sheer emotion, he assures us, “This is not the end! This is not the end!”
The ragged promotional tour for Made in the AM came to a close with one last appearance. Back where it began. They scrubbed up, co-ordinated outfits and put in a world-beating performance of ‘History’ on The X Factor.
The group hug when it was over…deeply emotional.
Of course, Louis is right and this is not the end. We will meet again, older, our reunion tinged with nostalgia, and when they sing, “We can live forever,” we will sing with them, knowing it isn’t true.
iii. Hello Again
I predicted Zayn’s departure. No one believes I did but I did. It was in their 2014 performance on The X Factor (when Ronnie Wood appeared) singing ultimate smash ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’. Looking so good – jumping, joyous – they were at their best. But not Zayn. He looked out of place – almost out of frame. It was clear, his heart was no longer in it.
I never publicised that prediction, so here instead are my futurologist hypotheses for the hiatus.
Niall finds success with a rootsy direction. Touring the larger theatres with a Mumford-style backing band, he wows each night with a solo acoustic spot in which he does a One Direction medley.
Unsure about Louis. Perhaps an album of songs passionate and overwrought, like one long bridge!
The clouds of darkness that surrounded Liam for so long finally lift. “With One Direction, I was always happiest in the studio,” he says at the launch of ‘Watson Records’, a label he co-founds with Julian Bunetta and John Ryan. Establishing himself as a writer-producer to other artists, Liam’s proves the most financially lucrative career.
All the money’s on Harry but Harry is one of the boys. A lad. Alone, could he not be a little sad? If I was a pop Svengali, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. I would not – I could not – launch him as some kind of Rod Stewart caricature but I fear that is his fate.
It’s difficult, isn’t it? One likes the husky appearance of his voice for a couple lines…but an entire song? I take comfort that his beauty will continue to flourish and he will remain an icon – providing alternatives to men’s non-fashions.
Therefore it seems there was strategy in Zayn’s early departure. The hiatus was always going to happen, so he got a head-start on readying an album before we get solo fatigue.
Eventually ill-tempered appearances and show cancellations alienate Zayn from some fans, exacerbated by our racist press. His second album does not match the success of his debut, leading to rumours Zayn is in discussions to reunite with One Direction.
These rumours are confirmed in October 2019 when all five members attend a press conference to announce they are reforming to play a 10th Anniversary Tour. To mark the occasion they release a greatest hits album, in November, which features three brand new recordings, including the single ‘Hello Again’.
When asked what it feels like to be back in the band, Zayn describes it as “coming home”, explaining that they are a “family and, like all families, we’ve had our ups and downs but the love has always been there.”
With thanks to
William Kherbek, Sam de Groot and Bethany Rutter