- Niall Horan released his second solo album "Heartbreak Weather" on Friday.
- We listened to every song on the tracklist, and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, we thought Horan showed a lot of growth as a musician, but we aren't dying to listen to it in full again.
- The best tracks on the album were "Heartbreak Weather" and "Small Talk" while we could do without "Everywhere" and "Put a Little Love on Me."
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Niall Horan released his second solo album, "Heartbreak Weather," on Friday. The album included its three lead singles, "Nice to Meet Ya," "Put a Little Love on Me," and "No Judgement," as well as 11 new songs.
Reporter Callie Ahlgrim and I (Courteney Larocca, celebrity and music editor) each listened to the new album on our own, jotting down our initial thoughts track by track.
Overall, we thought Horan exhibited real growth since his One Direction days, and we enjoyed tracks like "Heartbreak Weather" and "Small Talk." However, we thought some other songs, like "Everywhere" and "New Angel," lacked innovation and intrigue.
Here is what Ahlgrim and I thought of each song on Horan's album upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album's final score.)
"Heartbreak Weather" is an excellent album opener.
Larocca: I hit play and was immediately hit with that searing opening transition, followed by what can only be described as Netflix rom-com background music (that's not a bad thing.) The first couple of lines were a bit unintelligible — Niall, enunciate! – but he quickly found his groove.
Once I got to the chorus, I was pleasantly surprised to find out Horan's thesis statement isn't a breakup anthem, but rather a love song. Sure, it could be because I attach him strongly to his upbeat, happy One Direction image but also the refrain "All of my life it's been heartbreak weather / Thinkin' to myself, it won't get better / It can be so lonely in this city / but it feels different when you're with me" really is the kind of sunshine-y, feel-good optimism we could all use right now.
Horan may have joked that his timing of this album wasn't the best in light of a recent global pandemic, but it's already shaping up to be the kind of music I will gladly add to a coronavirus playlist. (Again, not a bad thing. Like many people, I'm working from home and need music right now.)
Ahlgrim: As someone who loved One Direction but never listened to Horan's debut album more than once, the title track of his sophomore effort immediately reminds me of "Four" and "Made in the AM" — especially melodic, guitar-heavy tracks like "Hey Angel," "Clouds," and "Change Your Ticket," which are some of my favorites.
It works well as an opener, especially since it feels very arena-friendly.
"Black and White" is sweet, but sometimes verges on boring.
Larocca: That soft strumming paired with the plunky production helps make this ode to Horan's partner feel like a grown-up version of "Little Things" or Horan's take on an Ed Sheeran song (although "Little Things" technically is a Sheeran song since the Brit cowrote it.)
"I promise that I'll love you for the rest of my life" is the kind of line I would expect from a Horan song. It's definitely cute, but doesn't feel overwhelmingly fresh.
Ahlgrim: I started to get bored of this one, largely thanks to the cliché chorus, but the bridge saved it. I love the gradual tempo change; it gives the song a sense of urgency that compliments its hopeless-romantic theme.
Horan's voice is pristine on "Dear Patience."
Larocca: OK, now I see why Horan was worried about the timing of this album. The lines "Just me and the stars can get lonely" and "Can you see that I'm anxious" are a little too on-the-nose for me right now, someone who is social distancing and working from home by myself for an undetermined length of time.
But in the spirit of giving Horan's album a fair shot (outside of the social context it found itself being released in), I will say this song is just fine. I think he sounds great and I love the addition of the tambourines in the latter half of the track, but it doesn't really grab my attention.
I know it wasn't intended to be consumed this way, but I do like it more as an ode to waiting out your anxieties in the age of self-quarantining, honestly.
Ahlgrim: When the drums kicked in for the second verse, I literally gasped. This is my favorite so far.
The plucked-guitar beginning is sweet, and Horan's voice sounds great, but it would've gotten old by the end of the second chorus. I love a song that surprises you halfway through.
I also love a song that continues to expand and swell and doesn't settle for one sound. The echoey bridge and orchestral outro were both lovely touches. I definitely didn't expect to hear so many different instrumental layers, but it worked super well.
"Bend the Rules" sounds like country Harry Styles.
Larocca: Oh, now this works. "Bend the Rules" veers a bit country, with Horan dipping into a lower register I didn't even know he had. His vocals are velvety and all-consuming. It feels like he's in the room with you.
I will reiterate again though that the production throughout this album screams "Put this song on the soundtrack for the 'To All the Boys 3' movie."
Ahlgrim: It sounds to me like he's channeling Harry Styles with his vocals in this one.
I'm not necessarily mad about it, but it also makes me think of how much I love "Fine Line," which makes me compare this song to that album's fourth song, which is "Cherry," which is one of my favorite songs in recent memory, which makes me feel unfairly underwhelmed by "Bend the Rules."
"Small Talk" is an exciting and impressive addition to Horan's discography.
Larocca: Just when you think you've figured out how this song is going to go, bam! He hits you with what I'm already confident enough to say is the most exciting moment on the album: an unexpected beat drop paired with a vocal performance that's confident and dare I say… sexy?
I had no idea that One Direction's hiatus would be such a good thing for Horan. But this song proves he really should have had more of the spotlight during his time with the band. This is my favorite song on the album. Yes, I'm aware I still have nine more songs to go.
Ahlgrim: So far, I'm super impressed by Horan's ability to craft a song that gets better and better as it goes on.
"Small Talk" starts slow enough, but the chorus introduces a twangy guitar riff that's quite simple but works incredibly well. Somehow, the second chorus hits even harder. I spent the entire song tapping my foot and bobbing my head, which is a feat in my book.
"Nice to Meet Ya" was a great lead single that works well within the album.
Larocca: The verses on "Nice to Meet Ya" make me think Horan is just doing his best Hozier impression (not including the bridge, when he switches back to sounding like his old One Direction self, albeit with an early-2000s pop-rock twist.)
As a lead single, this was a solid choice. Aside from the title being an obvious introduction, this track shows off Horan's vocals in a way that samples both the familiar and the foreign.
He's definitely matured since his 1D days, and while I loved him then, I'm really here for where he's at now.
Ahlgrim: I heard this song when it was released as a single back in November, and it immediately became my favorite of Horan's solo songs.
I really respect how he channels Alex Turner in his swagger-filled verses, then leans back in the chorus to let the early 2000s pop-rock vibes really shine. It was the perfect choice for a single, and it works equally well in the context of the album. I'm not tired of it yet.
"Put a Little Love on Me" is bland and doesn't have the emotional weight it needs to be successful.
Larocca: "Put a Little Love on Me" was the second single, and unfortunately, I don't think it fits within the context of this album. After hearing what else Horan has to offer, this saccharine piano ballad is a letdown. I'm bored.
Ahlgrim: Again, I heard this song when it was released as a single last year. I like this one much less than its predecessor. I'm just not partial to a slow piano ballad unless it feels very personal and packs a powerful emotional punch. "Put a Little Love on Me" is too generic and cheesy to deserve that assessment.
"Arms of a Stranger" is neither good nor bad.
Larocca: "Arms of a Stranger" is exactly like when a member of One Direction sings a One Direction song without the other members, except without the nostalgia. It's that generic pop-rock song that doesn't say a whole lot, and if you're not going to buddy up with Styles for it, what's the point?
Ahlgrim: I kind of zoned out during this one, which means it probably isn't very good. I didn't have a viscerally negative reaction to it either, though, so I'd feel safe to dub this "pleasant background music."
"Everywhere" doesn't deserve to be on playlists anywhere.
Larocca: It's not a cover of Michelle Branch's iconic 2001 hit "Everywhere," which I would have definitely preferred — especially after hearing what Horan was able to do with Taylor Swift's "Lover" earlier this month for Spotify.
Horan's "Everywhere" is the kind of song I wouldn't seek out or add to a playlist. It just doesn't add anything new.
Ahlgrim: This one is also too generic to really stand out. It feels a little like Shawn Mendes meets "Up All Night." It's cute, but nothing fresh or innovative.
"Cross Your Mind" brings to mind songs by other artists.
Larocca: On first listen, "Cross Your Mind" is the kind of song that you feel like you've heard it somewhere before, but you can't quite place it — and for a track titled "Cross Your Mind," that's actually pretty clever. (Or maybe it's just me that can't place it.)
As I was trying to figure out why this song feels so familiar, though, I was bopping my head and moving my hand to the beat in a similar fashion to the meme of Michelle Obama vibing at a concert.
Since my brain is broken and it is 2020, anything that makes me think of a specific meme is worth listening to in my book.
Ahlgrim: The stylish, sturdy bass line is easily this song's saving grace. Combined with the acoustic strumming, classic drum beat, and nicely timed hand-claps — as in the song's intro — "Cross Your Mind" almost recalls production by Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, or perhaps "Circles" by Post Malone.
Unfortunately, the groovy production is undermined by the uber-poppy harmonies in the chorus.
There's nothing new about "New Angel."
Larocca: Before I even pressed play, I could not help but notice how much the 1D boys love the term "angel." Like, the band has "Hey Angel" on "Made in the A.M.," Styles has "Only Angel" on his debut solo album, and now Horan has "New Angel." That may have set him up for failure considering I love the other songs mentioned.
Unfortunately, this one didn't fully deliver. While you can certainly move to it, it has the quality of something the Jonas Brothers would've written for "Happiness Begins" and then left on the cutting room floor because it wasn't good enough. If you're going to emulate another act, let it be something that act would fully release.
I know this goes without saying, but Horan didn't really "need a new angel."
Ahlgrim: There's a fine line between a cohesive tracklist and one that starts to blend together mindlessly. This tracklist is drifting dangerously close to the latter.
I like "New Angel," despite its triggering idealism (no one can "save you from yourself," and women are not receptacles to pour your unrealistic expectations into), but it doesn't feel different enough from the songs I've already heard. I love a cheeky lead guitar, but clearly not as much as Horan.
"No Judgement" is upbeat and enjoyable.
Larocca: Not to praise a man for doing the barest minimum, but the message of promising your lover that you won't judge them is incredibly sweet. I am also beyond here for Horan telling his partner, "go ahead and say what's on your mind."
I want to encourage this behavior from straight men, so for that, I give this song a thumbs up. (That's not actually how we're ranking them, but, you know.)
Ahlgrim: "No Judgement" sounds indebted in equal parts to Ed Sheeran and to music's current obsession with tropical, island-inspired melodies. I like it! I feel like I could move my hips to it.
Maybe it wouldn't stand out on the radio, especially thanks to its popular influences, but it feels fresh and different within the context of this album, like a warm breeze.
I'm glad I didn't listen to this song when it was promoted as a single.
"San Francisco" is unsurprising and formulaic.
Larocca: One of my favorite songs on One Direction's "Midnight Memories" is "Don't Forget Where You Belong," the song Horan wrote with the band McFly. It's probably also the 1D song I listen to most often — I even suggested it to someone recently.
The song is about longing for home, and it does that I-wish-I-was-somewhere-else yearning infinitely better than "San Francisco."
This track doesn't bring anything new to the table or build on Horan's previous work in a substantial way. When he sings "take me back, take me back," all I want to be taken back to is a better version of this song.
Ahlgrim: I'd probably skip this one if I ever listened to "Heartbreak Weather" top to bottom again. It sounds like something I'd hear in a trendy coffee shop — which isn't necessarily a bad thing — but its lyrics are a bit too cloying and its production too predictable for a headphones-on listening experience.
"Still" was the right way to close out this album.
Larocca: When I listen to an album, I care a lot about its closing track. It's a culmination of the entire project: It should wrap everything up but leave the listener with something to hold on to.
"Still" does this well. It's an earnest reminder of Horan's adoration for his partner (remember, his thesis statement was a love song — we knew what we were in for from the very first track) while also leaving us in a new state of "heartbreak weather" with lyrics like "'Cause I hate to see us like this / Breaking up on nights just like this" and "I guess we lost our focus / And it's killing me that we could go to war like this."
This song has the most emotional weight of any of the tracks on the album.
Ahlgrim: Though Horan's voice really glimmers over the guitar on this track, I was admittedly wondering why he chose a basic acoustic ballad to make his last impression — that is, until "Still" revealed itself as a slow-burn power ballad.
For an artist that's clearly enamored with classic album structures, lush arena anthems, and '80s rock, this makes perfect sense as a closing statement. It's a fairly standard structure, but the outro's gloomy whistling leaves me feeling refreshingly intrigued.
Final Grade: 6.7/10
Larocca: I liked this album — there were some stellar moments, and I can see myself revisiting some of these songs. However, it's not something I'd want to listen to in full, again and again. Ultimately, Horan's shown real growth here, while also reminding me of why I loved him so much back in his One Direction days.
Ahlgrim: This is the closest thing I've heard to a One Direction album since they broke up. It's much better than "Flicker." I like how it hews closely to '70s and '80s rock influences, but doesn't take itself too seriously.
Overall, a pleasant listening experience, though admittedly not one I'm rushing to have again. It has some nice flourishes and funky moments, but it doesn't command your full attention the way an album should.
Worth listening to:
"Black and White"
"Bend the Rules"
"Nice to Meet Ya"
"Cross Your Mind"
"Arms of a Stranger"
"Put a Little Love on Me"
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," 0 for "Press skip").
Source: Read Full Article