After the iconic boyband announced its hiatus in 2016, the five members of One Direction have slowly but surely begun to explore diverse solo careers. Despite their band name, the singers have gone in wildly different musical directions. Harry Styles experiments with classic rock and David Bowie-esque stage costumes, Zayn Malik works with big names in rhythm and blues, and Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson stick with club-friendly and electronic-inspired pop. The most recent member to release a solo album is Niall Horan, whose debut album “Flicker” goes down an acoustic pop route that showcases his guitar skills and soft vocals.
The album opens with “On The Loose,” the closest Horan gets to a party-worthy pop song, followed by the acoustic love song “This Town.” It smoothly transitions into the soft, bouncy “Seeing Blind” featuring Maren Morris. The same sweet lyrical content is reflected in “Fire Away” and the Fleetwood Mac–inspired guitar in “Since We’re Alone.”
To balance out the floaty, road-trip worthy love songs, more somber tunes with a hint of piano ground Horan’s vocals. “Too Much to Ask” and “Paper Houses” are both slower and thoughtful, with catchy choruses to boot.
More than in any other song, Horan shines in “Slow Hands,” a single that reached number one on the Mainstream Top 40 chart in early October. Although the oft-repeated mention of “sweat dripping down our dirty laundry” is out of place with the otherwise sensual lyrics, the verses’ staccato delivery contrasts the chorus’s smoother tone and keeps the mental image from being too distracting. The confidence in Horan’s voice is refreshing compared with other songs in which he sticks to soft, unobtrusive vocals.
The feel-good guitar strumming and harmonization that make Horan’s music soothing is the same thing that makes the album become a tad tedious after the 20-minute mark. After years of having a supporting role in backing up more prominent vocalists — Harry Styles, for one — while in One Direction, Horan’s solo album would have provided an ideal chance to finally show his own stylistic flair. In the majority of songs, however, he occupies a middle ground that is safe to the point of being unremarkable.
Midway through, the songs start to blend into pleasant background noise. “Paper Houses” and “Flicker” sound almost identical. Instead of taking risks, Horan defaults to a soft guitar and warm vocals that make the tracks run into each other. While the formula works, there is such a thing as too much cohesion. The final song, “The Tide,” ups the tempo for an exciting ending, but the middle passes by without leaving strong impression.
Overall, Horan plays it safe sticking to a tried-and-true style meant to appeal to mass audiences. Although tedious to listen to straight through, the album provides a jumping-off point for future musical experimentation and growth.
If other One Direction ex-members are the turkey dinner, “Flicker” is the mashed potato side-dish. A bit bland, but delicious enough that everyone wants it on their plate anyway.