Wait a minute! Didn't we just leave this party?
Okay, the One Direction guys didn't release two albums in 2013 like they did in 2012 (in the U.S.), but that doesn't mean the year hasn't felt like a nonstop 1D jam session. Singles from Take Me Home trailed out into early 2013, and then the English-Irish boy band released a concert film at the end of August (One Direction: This Is Us). This album's promotion began when its first single ("Best Song Ever") started blanketing airwaves in July.
So it's been all One Direction all the time for nearly two years straight as the talent-show also-rans continue their steamrolling strategy for pop music domination.
Plugged In hasn't been all that crazy about that direction, for the record. And the title of this third effort frankly didn't do much to allay our anxiety. So we quickly dug into it, wanting to know where Harry, Zayn, Liam, Niall and Louis were taking their young fans now.
"Let me be the one to lift your heart up and save your life," we hear on the sentimental "Diana," "I don't think you even realize, baby, you'd be saving mine." "Strong" treads tender lyrical territory too: "I'm not scared of love/'Cause when I'm not with you, I'm weaker/Is that so wrong/Is that so wrong/That you make me strong?" "Through the Dark" promises to faithfully guide a fragile partner through foreboding times ("I can see your head is held in shame/But I just wanna see you smile again/ … We will find a way through the dark/ … So let's just laugh again").
"You & I" focuses on a couple trying to overcome differences ("No, nothing can come between/You and I/ … We can make it if we try"). "Don't Forget Where You Belong" finds a touring musician longing for the comfort and goodness of home, while "Right Now" relishes a special moment with friends and longs for a distant loved one to be near.
"Story of My Life" evinces a growing self-awareness as the guys confess that empty relationships involving sex without emotional intimacy or commitment aren't getting the job done for them.
But while "Story of My Life" may recognize that physical intimacy alone doesn't lead to lasting satisfaction, there's little evidence that the realization is creating any real change. As I noted in the track review, "The sexual connections implied in the tune's two longer vignettes don't help much in sorting through these kinds of romantic troubles. And powerful romanticism cloaks the assumption that loving someone and sleeping with them unquestionably go together."
"Best Song Ever" makes light of a guy's "dirty mouth," talks about a girl's kissing and finally propositions the aforementioned young woman with this line: "I said, 'Can I take you home with me?'" (To her credit, she declines.) "Little Black Dress" leers, "I wanna see the way you move for me, baby," then suggests, "It's so right/'Cause I'll take you home."
Along with a "shhh" sound standing in twice for the s-word and some suggestive heavy breathing on the title track, we also hear, "Tell me that I'm wrong, but I do what I please/ … I don't care how much we spend/ … For tonight let's just pretend/I don't wanna stop, so give me more." "Happily" finds a man brazenly having an affair with a woman he "loves" so much he doesn't care about the consequences ("You know I wanna be the one to hold you when you sleep/ … It's 4 a.m., and I know you're with him/I wonder if he knows that I touched your skin/And if he feels my traces in your hair/Sorry, love, but I don't really care.") The bonus track "Does He Know" furthers these cheating motifs.
"Little White Lies" finds a guy saying, "I know you want it/I know you feel it too/Let's stop pretending/That you don't know what I don't know/Just what we came to do." There's also backseat kissing in a cab and innuendo about breaking rules. On "Better Than Words," somebody brags, "Best I ever had/Hips don't lie." And on bonus track "Why Don't We Go There," the there in question is sex: "Why don't we go there?/ … There's no right time or place/'Cause anyone can see we'll do it anyway."
Still another bonus track, "Alive," involves going to counseling for sex addiction ("I don't know why I wanna be with every girl I meet"), only to hear from a counselor that he should just do whatever he wants: "She said, 'Hey, it's all right/Does it make you feel alive?/Don't look back/Live your life/Even if it's only for tonight." Not surprisingly, he turns around and uses those same lines on a young woman he meets at a party.
1D takes two steps in a different direction … and then three back on the same old path.
The young men in the 2010s' biggest boy band deserve credit for proffering some vulnerable moments in which they admit that maybe there's more to life than just sex, or sing about overcoming difficulties and faithfully facing dark times together. But then they push all that aside with a blast of sexy, saucy Midnight Memories.