When Niall Horan was in One Direction, he fulfilled the role of the sweet and reliable Irish boy-next-door with a voice and heart of gold. Since One Direction’s hiatus in early 2016, all the boys have been trying their hardest to branch out and go in their own directions.
Zayn continues to play up on an edgy, shaved-head, neo-soul persona, while Louis and Liam are going down the pulsating club, pop, and electronic dance music (EDM) road.
Of course, Harry Styles’ self-debuted 70’s British classic rock album earned him praise from young women and rock legend Mick Fleetwood alike.
However, Niall Horan’s folkier pop Flicker, released Oct. 20, unsurprisingly stays in his musical lane. On the whole, Flicker sounds mildly unplugged, with heavy Fleetwood Mac influence and sprinkles of Ed Sheeran and John Mayer in the guitar and harmonies.
Additionally, there are traces of One Direction’s Four, which makes sense as old One Direction collaborator Jamie Scott contributes to Flicker. Other talented contributors are Kings of Leon producer Jacquire King and Adele’s co-writer Tobias Jesso Jr.
Flicker opens with “On the Loose,” with some synth drums, bright guitar, and Horan’s natural and warm voice. All of these elements harken back to One Direction’s high points.
Up next is “This Town,” which was released earlier in 2017 as a single. This song is folksy and simple, with delicate guitar and piano accompanying Horan’s lyrics.
Horan sings, “If the whole world was watching I’d still dance with you, drive highways and byways to be there with you.”
Horan’s lyrics are fitting, since every song on Flicker sounds like it should be playing in the background of a starry, slow dance.
“Seeing Blind” especially captures a starry atmosphere, featuring country star Maren Morris with twangy guitar and soft twinkling acoustics akin to a Lumineers’ song. Fleetwood Mac lyrics make a “you make lovin’ fun” cameo.
Flicker’s bangers are “Slow Hands,” “Since We’re Alone,” and “On My Own.” “Slow Hands” is without a doubt the sexiest song on Flicker.
“Slow Hands” is subtle, tasteful, catchy, foot-tapping, and breezy. “Since We’re Alone” has some heavy Fleetwood Mac influence and has a more pop sound, with lyrics like, “And if you get lost in the light, it’s okay, I can see in the dark.”
Horan continues to play into his reliable, comforting boy-next-door-persona.
“On My Own” is the only song that isn’t a love song. This track is an Irish anthemic homage to being a bachelor, young and reckless, and all about himself. It makes the listener want to march with a flag or drink alone while feeling on top of the world.
The more vulnerable side of Flicker includes “Flicker,” complete with violins, piano that sounds like raindrops, and Horan’s croons of “please don’t leave.”
“Paper Houses” shows off Horan’s higher vocal range with rolling drums and gentle guitar, and “Fire Away” has reassuring lyrics like “you may be lost but I ain’t losing you”.
“Fire Away” has a somewhat-jazzy sweet and slow vibe, accompanied by feathery harmonies.
Flicker ends with “The Tide,” composed of soaring violin and sweeping drums. Horan references the tide as something that’s going to overpower and tear a relationship apart. He could possibly be referencing fame or inner demons.
Horan’s Flicker explores the softer, scarier side of being in love and the vulnerability of finding one’s sense of self.
However, the lyrics lack in originality, in a sense that there’s nothing that makes the listener feel like only Niall Horan could’ve written or sung the songs. Although tone continuity is an important part of most albums, a couple of the songs on Flicker are similar to a tedious degree.
Ultimately, Flicker’s release seems as though Niall Horan has done a full circle return to the role he played in One Direction.
Horan returns to the sweet, sensitive, and safe Irish boy who would never hurt anyone or anything (especially his fans or his sales) by doing something unpredictable.
Despite Flicker not being the most bold or most thought-provoking album, this album definitely paints Niall Horan as an artist who knows exactly who he is and knows the musical direction he is going towards.