Album Review: Louis Tomlinson’s ‘Walls’ Is A Strong Debut

Mike Nied | February 3, 2020 12:31 pm

The lead up to the release of Louis Tomlinson’s Walls has been quite the journey. And it started four years ago when One Direction – one of the biggest bands of all time – went on an indefinite hiatus. After dropping their final album in 2016, the guys each had to learn what it meant to create on their own. In the process they tried on a variety of sounds before landing on one that worked for them. That’s especially the case for Louis, who experimented quite a bit with a string of buzz tracks. He also went through a multitude of life changes in the time and now emerges with a distinct sound and an even clearer message on his debut solo album.

Arriving January 31, it was well-worth the wait. The 12-song collection introduces us to Louis in a way that we haven’t seen him before. How so? It gives us an opportunity to engage with him directly as a solo star instead of one voice within many. He uses the opportunity and his powerful pen to to share a strong message of resilience. That comes across on every track from “Two Of Us” to “Fearless.” The end result is a compelling collection that boldly defies current trends and simultaneously proves he has more to say now than ever before. That alone is enough to chalk the project up as a serious win that will keep us coming back for more.

1. “Kill My Mind”

And you won’t let go of your hold on me.

Walls opens with the song that signified a sonic rebirth for Louis. Of course, that would be “Kill My Mind.” After dabbling in everything from heartfelt floor-fillers to emo-pop, the crooner struck gold by throwing it back to the ’90s on the indie-rock inspired track. Laying his voice over a production courtesy of Jamie Hartman, he finds himself dangerously enchanted by a partner. And those feelings build up to a concussive and satisfying release on the chorus. Unsurprisingly, this lays out the groundwork for what is to follow.

2. “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”

Whatever tears you apart, don’t let it break your heart.

After dropping “Kill My Mind,” Louis had no problem continuing his hot streak with a string of guitar-led buzz tracks. One of the best of those is “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.” Produced by Stuart Crichton, this is a decidedly uplifting moment that reminds listeners to never give up hope no matter what obstacles get in their way. Expertly performed and very, very radio friendly, it deserved to be a much bigger hit for the solo star.

3. “Two Of Us”

I will keep you, day and night, here until the day I die.

No other song on the tracklist hits quite the same way as “Two Of Us.” The heart aching ballad is dedicated to Louis’ late mother and finds him swearing to live life to the fullest in her honor. There’s no denying the passion in his voice or the power of the lyrics, which manage to capture his true emotions without coming off as remotely saccharine. Instead, what he delivers is a raw moment that encapsulates the feeling of loss and that is bound to resonate with anyone who faced a similar tragedy.

4. “We Made It”

Never coming down with your hand in mine.

The influence of Oasis (one of Louis’ favorite bands) is abundantly evident on the retro-leaning “We Made It.” Here the former boy bander again revisits the sonics of “Kill My Mind.” Only this time there’s a certain sense of longing to the lyrics. The chorus especially is an anthemic sing-along that is going to be particularly effective in a live setting.

5. “Too Young”

We were too young to know we had everything.

Next up is “Too Young,” which strips back some of the stadium-ready production that defined “We Made It.” Instead, Louis earnestly shares a cautionary tale about the trials and tribulations of young love over sparse strings. This emerges as a personal favorite and feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on former bandmate Niall Horan’s debut album Flicker. In a good way, obviously. If life is fair, it will get a moment to shine at some point during the era.

6. “Walls”

These high walls never broke my soul.

During our interview, Louis told me the title track is his favorite song on Walls. And it’s easy to see why after even a passing listen. Another production of Hartman’s, the soulful mid-tempo provides a fitting follow-up to “Too Young.” In that it highlights the maturity with which he now approaches relationships. Opening at the apparent close of one, it is pleasantly surprising to learn that the song is actually about overcoming whatever barriers may have been in the way. The end result is a beautiful tribute to resilience and the ways we can grow alongside the ones we love.

7. “Habit”

You’re the habit that I can’t break.

There’s a thematic shift moving into “Habit.” Here Louis picks up the pieces after a failed relationship. But he has a hard time letting go of his partner. That’s evidenced by the simple but effective chorus. Even better are the intricately layered verses. Speaking of, fans are bound to have a good time attempting to unravel some of the clever hints layered within the lyrics. One of those is a mention to an apartment the hitmaker lived in after X-Factor and provides something of a timeline for the relationship in question.

8. “Always You”

I’m wasting my time when it was always you.

The closest Louis comes to giving us a One Direction-esque pop moment is on the sugary “Always You.” Produced by BURNS, the breezy anthem captures the moment he realizes that he’s found The One. Of course, he learns the lesson after traveling the world solo and having a couple adventures on his own. Held together by a vibrant chorus, it feels a little out of place when compared to “Kill My Mind.” However, there’s something so relentlessly upbeat and catchy about it.

9. “Fearless”

Tell me, do you still remember feeling young?

It’s a commonly accepted adage that with age comes wisdom. But sometimes we can overlook the benefits of being young. Chief amongst those is a childlike sense of bravery. This is a trait Louis celebrates and urges fans to continue embracing on the thoughtfully penned “Fearless.” The track features one of the more lush productions on the LP and also has the distinction of being my favorite song.

10. “Perfect Now”

If you knew what you were to me you would never try to hide away.

Louis delivers what could be considered a sequel to “What Makes You Beautiful” on “Perfect Now.” In that it is another achingly sweet love song that encourages a partner to recognize their beauty and self-worth. That comparison only highlights how much his songwriting and vocal skills have evolved over the years, though. The former will forever be a classic, but the newer iteration exists as a more reserved moment that perfectly captures what it’s like to be your loved one’s biggest cheerleader.

11. “Defenceless”

You keep on building up your fences, but I’ve never been so defenceless.

A recurring theme on Walls is Louis’s tendency to bare his feelings without consideration of the consequences. That’s exactly what he does on “Defenceless.” Here he strips back the armor from around his heart in order to give a partner everything they need. Joe Janiak’s production swells and recedes epically across the track. And this is another moment that only gets better the more you listen to it.

12. “Only The Brave”

It’s a solo song, and it’s only for the brave.

Clocking in at under two minutes, “Only The Brave” is the shortest song on the album. However the brief closer certainly doesn’t lack in personality. Defined by a rougher instrumental, it is easily the most stripped-back on the collection. This is a direction that I’d be interested in seeing Louis explore more in the future and that finishes his debut with what is hopefully a hint of more to come in the future.

Score: 4/5

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