Since 1D, Niall Horan’s been doing well. He hasn’t caused much drama, he had a hit single with 2017’s ‘Slow Hands’, and from what I can see from his low-cut tank tops and partially unbuttoned shirts, he’s been growing out his chest hair. Good for him.
Released on March 13, Horan uses his second studio album Heartbreak Weather to analyse the rise and fall of a relationship from different points of view—his, his ex-partner’s, and that of an outsider’s. He says that he didn’t want it to turn into an album full of whiny sad break-up songs (I paraphrased), he wanted to keep it upbeat and fun. As a result, Horan is rarely accusatory or even particularly self-pitying throughout, which is refreshing and consistent with his clean, easy-going marketing image. How coincidental!
The title track is all love and eighties synth. It kind of makes me want to go driving with my imaginary girlfriend and shout out the window: “It feels different when you’re with me!” In this scenario, we’re in California and I can drive. ‘Black and White’ sounds like the belter that rolls with the end credits for an animated Disney film, but it’s a nice, proper love song, if not particularly unique. Its style is reminiscent of ‘Castle On The Hill’ and 1D’s ‘18’ from their album Four (coincidentally also written by Ed Sheeran). The way he sings “I promise that I’ll love you for the rest of my life” has stuck with me for a week.
‘Small Talk’ is basically a sexier, catchier ‘Slow Hands’, but it also sounds like it could’ve been sung by Joe Jonas while he was in DNCE-slash-in the background of an ad for Survivor. Horan singing about how this imaginary girl’s got ‘the wrong crazy’ is questionable, but he makes up for it with the line “tell me what you want because you know I want it too“. In this house we love consent and communication. ‘Nice To Meet Ya’ was the album’s first single, and it goes hard. It has swagger and some cocky pop-rock production that lends itself well to live shows, as well as a short duration that means the repetition doesn’t get boring. If you listen to this song, make sure to watch Lewis Capaldi’s reaction to the video, even if it’s only to hear him say, affronted, “That is SMUT!“
Directly after this is second single ‘Put A Little Love On Me’, which is basically Horan begging for his partner back via piano ballad. Unfortunately, Lewis Capaldi currently has a monopoly on depressing belters, so this single slipped under the radar even though it’s not too bad, if a bit lacking in true vulnerability. It does, however, showcase the thoughtfulness in his writing, with the line “do you hate the weekends ‘cause nobody’s calling?” hitting particularly hard.
I’ve found that, with this album especially, Horan’s verses are often more enjoyable than his choruses, much like how Taylor Swift’s bridges are the best parts of all her songs (‘Blank Space’ excluded). See: ‘New Angel’, ‘Bend The Rules’, ‘San Francisco’. In fact, I can barely listen to the chorus of ‘San Francisco’ without being forcefully reminded of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Though I do appreciate the regret in the lyrics “I don’t know that I’ll be good to you” and “I wish I hadn’t been so cruel” in a song about wanting to go back to the good times in a relationship.
The tropical ‘No Judgement’ was Horan’s final single before album release—a chill song with a good, simple message: “when you’re with me no judgement“. It’s what ‘I Don’t Care’ could’ve been if Ed Sheeran was trying anymore. I find the way he sings the line “even though we don’t talk for a couple of months, yeah / it’s like we didn’t lose any time” deeply satisfying, and particularly relatable considering I also forget to speak to people for months at a time.
The final track ‘Still’ is Horan laying his heart on the line over a tender acoustic guitar—”if honesty means telling you the truth / well I’m still in love with you“. Reminiscent of ‘Flicker’, it’s a good song to close with, a wistful shot in the dark that slowly builds as it confesses the flaws in their relationship. When he sings “I guess we lost our focus” towards the end, desperate and grasping, you can feel the ache.
Things I’ve learnt from this album:
1. Niall Horan is forever looking for the next Manic Pixie Dream Girl to fill the empty space in his heart. Take a shot every time he sings about how his partner’s out running wild.
2. Niall Horan is a surprisingly good songwriter considering he barely wrote anything in 1D. A bit Taylor Swift in that his songs tell a story, but less clever. Would love to see what he can do without the assistance of some of the regulars on 1D’s writing credits, whose touch have turned this into something that could’ve been swung as 1D’s 6th album.
3. Niall Horan could smash an Ed Sheeran cover, but Ed Sheeran could NOT smash a Niall Horan cover, and that’s that on that.