Album: “Midnight Memories” (Columbia)
What’s the mother of the average American tween to do as the holidays approach? Miley has twerked her way out of the stocking, for sure. Justin Bieber invites too many questions. And most of the women of pop are exploring very adult themes that are rated at least PG-13.
One Direction steps into that giant void just in time for Black Friday, providing nervous mothers with the perfect gift: “Midnight Memories.” The album is full of positive choruses and playful — not pornographic — takes on love and life. Smartly promoted around release, the third album from the British boy band is definitely mom bait.
It’s a pretty good record, too. The quintet has released a lot of music in a short period of time, usually a challenge for young acts.
Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson take baby steps forward from their two platinum-selling 2012 releases, “Up All Night” and “Take Me Home,” adding some musical edge and variety, mostly through the use of turned-up guitars and hit surfing through the mom-friendly 1980s.
“Diana,” for instance, is all Sting and The Police as the boys hop on that burgeoning bandwagon. The title track references Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in a way that’s oddly pleasing. And “Does He Know?” covers the same ground musically and thematically as Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”
While the quintet is flirtatious, they never move beyond the casual come-on, and their paramores are painted as sassy and smart, usually turning down that invitation to go home with one of the boys. The rockin’ “Little Black Dress” is about as spicy as it gets. Unlike most of their pop-music colleagues, bad girls are definitely not cool here, as they note on “Little White Lies.”
—Chris Talbott, Associated Press
Album: “Cupid Deluxe” (Domino)
Last week, the British style magazine Dazed & Confused quoted Blood Orange’s Devonte Hynes as saying that none of the songs he’d apparently been asked to write for Britney Spears’ upcoming album had made the cut. Too bad.
As demonstrated by his recent work with Sky Ferreira and Solange, Hynes specializes in facilitating self-discovery (or at least its illusion). Often, Hynes sounds like he’s trying to get to the bottom of the 1980s fixation coursing through so much indie-aligned pop and rock right now, working airy, mournful vamps for long stretches to understand the nostalgia they’re triggering.
It’s likely an especially complicated swirl of associations for Hynes, who was born in Texas, grew up in England and lives in New York. Maybe that background is what led to a song as weirdly hybridized as “Uncle Ace,” which layers undulating, Philip Glass-style woodwinds over a taut disco groove, or to his left-field cover of “I Can Only Disappoint U” by the C-list Brit-pop band Mansun.
But the brainy record-nerd stuff is just a delivery device for emotions that can border on the maudlin. Is that a turnoff? It evidently was for Britney. But there’s a bravery to Hynes’ vulnerability here.
—Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times