Album review: Niall Horan, Flicker

***

Even at the height of One Direction’s popularity, Niall Horan always seemed to have one eye on his inevitable solo career — with the group’s live shows invariably featuring the Mullingar native strumming a guitar. As his band mates preened and waved their manes, he wanted you to know he was the serious musician in the ranks.

This emphasis on “authenticity” carries through to his first post-One Direction record. While his erstwhile colleagues variously embrace r’n’b (Zayne Malik) or Robbie Williams style song-and-dance (Harry Styles), Horan goes the full Ed Sheeran, on an LP assembled with assistance from regular 1D collaborators such as Greg Kurstin.

Consequently, Flicker immediately establishes a level of tepid craftsmanship, from which it rarely departs. Horan is unquestionably an accomplished musician and vocalist. He croons and bares his sad man-feelings on opener ‘On The Loose’ and goes full power ballad on the sweetly spun ‘Since We’re Alone’.

Occasionally, he risks a tempo change, such as one mildly groovy single ‘Too Much To Ask’. But there’s a distinct whiff of “let’s not frighten the horses” about the whole affair, as if Horan is terrified of being mistaken for a mere pop star.

This is actually a cannier move that it might initially seem. One Direction were fundamentally a ballad band and there is little reason to believe their fanbase has any appetite for the derivative Prince-isms of Malik’s solo output — much less Styles’s broad “let me entertain you” shtick.

By identifying a formula and sticking to it, Horan,by contrast, has struck upon a tone of consistency that will go down well with One Direction devotees who may still be asking themselves why their heroes had to call it a day in the first place.


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