Some things in life are constants. Successful boy bands will always have a much-publicised break-up. And before the inevitable reunion in a few years, the members will all embark on solo careers, to varying degrees of success. One Direction, the titans of pop music in the last decade, are no different; arguably the group’s biggest stars, Harry Styles and Zayn Malik, have already forged successful and well-received careers as independent musicians. Irish-born Niall Horan is now attempting to do the same with his debut album, Flicker, a folky pop-rock collection which allegedly draws inspiration from classic rock acts like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.
I went into this album with an open mind. I’ve never been a huge fan of One Direction, but I found Harry Styles’ self-titled debut, with its classic rock sensibilities, an incredibly pleasant surprise, and hoped to find another potential gem in Horan. The best adjective I can use to describe his effort is just: nice. There’s nothing here that made me wince, or groan, or take my headphones off in a fit of seething rage. Unfortunately, that’s because nothing about this album made me feel much of anything (other than the mild terror which the oddly unnerving album cover gave me. Stop staring at me, Niall!).
Often overshadowed by his showier bandmates, it’s nice to hear Horan’s voice get the spotlight. He’s a talented, no-frills singer who can really shine on the gentle songs here – there’s a soft passion to his tone that elevates many of the choruses from humdrum, to sweet and catchy. The lyrics are very standard fare about love and relationships, with ‘Paper Houses’ and ‘Too Much To Ask’ being the stand-out tracks, showing a bit of personal flair. Horan has songwriting credit on all ten songs of the record, and in the age of ghost-writing and omnipotent producers, it’s good to see an artist heavily involved with the creative process. The use of a full band throughout the album is certainly to its credit, and the guitar work is perfectly pleasant, if not innovative.
‘Slow Hands’ is the Irishman’s biggest hit and it’s easy to see why; the fun, bass-driven song has a sultriness and groove to it that separates it from the earnest ballads that form the majority. Album opener ‘On the Loose’ is similarly funky, with a smooth guitar hook that’s the best on the album. I never thought I’d type this sentence, but the album could benefit from more of Horan’s ‘sexy’ side. Seeing Blind features a duet with American country Maren Morris, and both voices sound fantastic when layered together – more collaborations would be welcome on Horan’s future work.
I never thought I’d type this sentence, but the album could benefit from more of Horan’s ‘sexy’ side
Sadly, these highlights aren’t enough to redeem a record that is pretty bland on the whole. The songs all blend together, particularly Flicker’s back half, and I struggle to recall much of what I’ve heard once I press pause. It’s a very pleasant listen and makes for relaxing background music, but there are no risks taken and there’s nothing that demands your attention. Niall Horan is to be admired for trying his hand at the solo musician game, but he’s going to need to make big steps up if he wants to be more than ‘one of the guys from One Direction’.