One Direction’s ‘Made In The A.M.’: Album Review

You have to feel for hardcore One Direction fans. When Zayn Malik announced his departure from the group in March, the writing was on the wall for the end of 1D’s replicant-like lifespan. And then, when the gang dropped the boy band, paint-by-numbers “late night” track “Drag Me Down” in June from their impending fifth studio album Made in the A.M., the hammer finally dropped: Following the album’s release, the group would be taking an indefinite hiatus to pursue solo projects. And so, after five albums, five years, five mid-November release dates, the ride, for all intents and purposes, is over. One Direction’s precision (and also insane) production schedule speaks to the pop factory philosophy of Simon Cowell’s Syco record label. 1D fans have expected, like clockwork, one album from the reigning boy band kings of the 2010s every twelve months, and now they have to quit cold turkey, without even a world tour to keep them warm at night. Woof, that’s rough.

Review Revue:: See what other critics are saying about the new 1D LP

But even while the album isn’t a huge jump in quality like the modern rock of 2014’s Four was, Made in the A.M. (released ) isn’t a phoned-in victory lap. It’s an album that sounds like another day at the office for the group’s remaining members, replete with ballads, soaring pop styles, an a cappella vocal group experiment, the aforementioned intense, late night “dark track,” and, thank god, a subtweet-level dig at Taylor Swift courtesy of ex Harry Styles. The lads are as sincere and focused as ever, without any overt acknowledgement that this is the end of an era, even though they explicitly said that the record would contain such a thing in the press outings before the album’s release. Instead, the tracklist on Made in the A.M. is tinged with the impression that this album is a bit of a time capsule, occasionally colored with the extremely faint hint of instant nostalgia, that quietly says to the group’s fans: “Remember us like this.” For a manufactured pop group that is still closely handled and managed on every single damn level, that’s about as close as we are going to get to self-reflection.

The boys are still running through a gauntlet of tween-approved romantic scenarios that have been explored at length on previous albums, like the fawning admiration of the stratospheric album opener “Hey Angel,” or the infectious infatuation of the tumbling, Glee-like ’80s jam “Never Enough” and finally the stadium ready — and Coldplay piano-cribbing — broken heart paen of “Infinity.” And that’s not a problem! One Direction, even if they’ve churned out songs like this before, are still really good at churning out songs like this. It feels a little noble, actually, that they are just sticking to their guns on what is probably their last album as a group for a long time, and banking on the same tropes that have won them millions of fans. The real world has never intruded on the group’s music, and it sure as hell won’t happen now.

The album’s most interesting moment comes, of course, on “Perfect,” the single that was coyly suggested by Harry Styles (as if there was any other way to suggest it) to be about his relationship with Taylor Swift. It’s a song that compositionally sounds a lot like Swift’s own “Style” which was about guess who, and basically posits this thesis from Styles himself: If you want a brooding bad boy who treats you like crap for a fling, not a boyfriend, I’m your man. That’s about as edgy as the group has ever gotten, and it could possibly be a nod to the kind of persona Styles himself wants to set up in his solo work.

And while, yes, the orchestral, lighters-up drama of “Love You Goodbye” and the Wings-era Paul McCartney feel of “History” do close out the album with a feeling of finality and closure, both are still framed in the context of dissolved relationships, like so many songs they’ve made before. Could they be interpreted as a goodbye to fans? Probably! But it’s One Direction. It’s about a girl. It was always about a girl.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5

Patrick Bowman