It’s crazy to think we’re at this point, but most of the One Direction boys have moved on to their sophomore solo albums already. Zayn’s bloated, but still great, Icarus Falls came out a few years back and Harry’s juggernaut Fine Line was released late last year. Niall’s Flicker was a solid debut record, and now his follow-up, Heartbreak Weather is a stronger and glossier set. The album refines some of Flicker‘s rough edges with a clear intent to present Niall Horan: The Pop Star, a crooner with the wide appeal of Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes who has yet to carve out a distinct personality for himself.
When Niall returned Heartbreak Weather‘s lead single, “Nice to Meet Ya,” things looked promising. The swaggering rock-influenced pop track added some much needed edge to his musical identity and the Mick Jagger-esque vocal delivery and instrumentation further solidified his cross-generational appeal. On that single, and most of this album, Niall builds the folk-pop of Flicker into a fuller and more bombastic overall sound. Heartbreak Weather is an attempt at a concept album in which Niall uses meteorological metaphors to take his listeners on a stroll down break-up memory lane. He tries his best, but it’s difficult to keep the charade up for fourteen tracks of a very similar sound with no collaborators.
Like Flicker, Heartbreak Weather houses more than a few standout tracks and his vocal performances are quite impressive. The title track is a strong introduction to the record and debuts Niall’s more mainstream-pop leaning sound with style and confidence. “Cross Your Mind” and “No Judgement,” his tropical house-influenced current single, are solid pop tracks that elevate One Direction’s signature sound, but also reveal Niall struggles with “flirty” songwriting (he’s much better at the more melancholic fare). Moreover, Niall expands his musical range on Heartbreak Weather with the funky synth-laden “New Angel” and “Small Talk,” a rollicking and energetic slice of pop perfection that needs to be his next single. One of Flicker‘s strengths, if not its greatest strength, were its ballads. Unfortunately, most of the ballads on Heartbreak Weather blend together into one giant homogenous slog of a song. “Put A Little Love On Me,” however,” is the kind of Ed Sheeran/Lewis Capaldi-esque piano ballad that is a perfect showcase for Niall’s earnest and emotional vocal performance. The lyrics (“Do you hate the weekend ’cause nobody’s callin’?/I’ve still got so much love hidden beneath this skin”) accentuate Niall’s strengths as a songwriter on an album that is too concerned with proving him to be a “star” and not an “artist,” as if he can’t be both.
Heartbreak Weather is the closest thing to a One Direction album since Made in the A.M., the last One Direction album. The album takes too long to truly captivate its listeners because all of the strong and interesting music is shoved on the back half of the record. The front of Heartbreak Weather is, quite frankly, very boring. Many of the tracks are forgettable and derivative; he would’ve definitely benefited from a few duets like the Maren Morris collaboration “Seeing Blind” on Flicker. Nevertheless, Niall and his team can find some solace in the fact that the record does prove his viability as a pop star and showcase his willingness to branch out from his comfort zone of folk-influenced acoustic pop. Moving forward, Niall will need to figure out what (besides being a 1D alum) makes him different from the Ed Sheerans, Shawn Mendeses, and Lewis Capaldis of the music industry. What does he bring to the table that a dozen other conventionally attractive white guys who sing love songs don’t? If his commitment to a concept album, despite the flawed execution, and his willingness to explore new sounds, even if the progress is incremental, are any indication, Niall will come out on top by the time his next lead single rolls around. Heartbreak Weather isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s definitely not the worst album put out by a 1D alum in the past twelve months (*cough* Liam *cough*).
Key Tracks: “Small Talk”; “Put A Little Love On Me”; “New Angel”; “Still”