Posted in Music, Review

Made in the A.M.: this is not the end, is it?

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Sometimes i blog because i want to write something, oftentimes it happens thanks to certain light-bulb moments. For this post, History montage is the impetus. I put off listening to Made in the A.M. for a couple of months and have since been contemplating whether or not to blog about it until i watched their latest music video and thought to myself i gotta do it. As simple and complicated as that.

Truth be told, i wasn’t as eager to check this album out as i had been for their previous records for a number of reasons. 1) It’s released in the not-so-good year for Directioners; after losing a member (with arguably the strongest vocal) and announcing to go on an indefinite break, this album sounds in every way a parting gift to their fans. 2) I didn’t dig Four as a whole regardless of the number of times i’ve looped it, no matter how hard i tried. While i never read/hear that Made in the A.M. was gonna be Four 2.0, that coupled with the fact that i wasn’t too big on the gritty lead single Drag me down was enough to make me hesitant. I like the lyrics, not so much the melody. But i do love Perfect and after stumbling upon a few of the album tracks’ live performances, i decided to give it a go. Not only am i more than pleased with the songs but that also made me realize how silly it is to have those random reasons as prejudgment and stopping me from listening to it.

Sounds-wise, Made in the A.M. is closest to Four (the first two, Up All Night and Take Me Home, are all-out peppy teen pop records while the third, Midnight Memories, serves as the transition record to the group’s thereafter pop-rock direction. Ain’t it ironic that the fourth album is their last as five and the fifth is their first — and hopefully not their last — as four?). Both produce songs with mature feel, edgier tunes, and retro vibes; the fifth houses a lot more ballads and acoustic tracks, which are far from a snooze-fest. What they lack in instruments they make up for in melody. To their defense, they aren’t entirely unplugged; the bass and drum for example are added in the chorus or second half of the songs.

If i could fly is mainly backed by piano, the strings are barely noticeable until the second chorus. They are softly and tenderly played i wish the lines are delivered more gently and less roughly, like the way Louis did his. I’m not sure if it’s a love song because while some parts sound romantic (For your eyes only, I show you my heart / For when you’re lonely and forget who you are / I’m missing half of me when we’re apart), it’s tinged with sadness. A yearning ballad is a better fit perhaps?

I want to write you a song is the laid-back song you can strum at campfire or the balcony, on a starry breezy night. A tender serenade with simple chords and fuzzy feelings about wanting to make something for your loved one — a coat as hiding place when the world is cold, a boat so the heart won’t ever sink, a song for the ears to listen to and the heart to remember when we’re apart. It’s the croonier version of Extreme’s More than words. The electronic version of this is Walking in the wind — hushed verses, blaring refrains — as they swap guitar for bass.

A.M. is the last track of the deluxe edition, which inspires the album’s title as well as represents the lads’ recording style, which are largely done in the wee hours. Though isn’t as stripped down as I want to write you a song, it somehow comes off as the record’s barest song, probably because the instruments are so sparse and the lyrics are so sentimental.

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Moving on to power ballads, Made in the A.M. packs a few, all of which are blue and melodramatic. In Infinity, Harry shouts forlornly “How many nights does it take to count the stars? That’s the time it would take to fix my heart.” Soaring chorus with heartbeat drums that’s amplified into pounding snare beats after the second chorus. The hook calls for mass sing-along, but ethereal Hey Angel sounds more epic and rousing to me.

Long way down is mellower and even more sorrowful, but i prefer this to Infinity. It doesn’t really have a big chorus but the repeated lines of “We built it up so high and now I’m fallin’ — it’s a long way down…” are ringing in my ears. It hurts so good.

“We made a fire — went down in the flames
We sailed an ocean — and drowned in a wave
We had a spaceship, but we couldn’t land it
We found an island, but we got stranded”

My favorite ballad, however, gotta be Love you goodbye. It has dramatic build-up, resounding chorus, irresistible hook, and stirring vocals. What more do you want?

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Enough with the schmaltz? There are also those with head-over-heels lyrics, such as the cheeky and somewhat playful Olivia, What a feeling whose smooth and breezy tunes shall make it a great road-trip jam, or the groovy and flirtatious Temporary fix that’s too tempting to say no to. The most rockish track in the record is arguably Never enough, which features doo-wop, grating noises, and high-pitched shrills. If i didn’t check the title, i’d think it is Wolves that in turn is lot calmer and more tuneful than this. These tracks except Wolves also have prominent oldies sounds to them.

This brings me to the last three songs which also my Top 3 picks from the album: Perfect, End of the day, and History. While Perfect isn’t the grand sweeping love song that promises forever — no, it is merely an offer to have fun together, a fling almost, rather than a declaration of love — everything about it sounds perfect: from head-bopping beats to earworm melodies to full-bodied vocals to clever lyrics. There’s a reason why bad boys are attractive, right? Perfect can possibly be my favorite single — song, even — from the band, ever.

Of all the big and catchy choruses above, the most indelible one is End of the day‘s. The song is sort of okay-ish, until it hits the refrain: “All I know at the end of the day is you want what you want and you say what you say, and you’ll follow your heart even though it’ll break sometimes~” Good luck getting it out of your head =)

I deliberately save History for last because no other song would be more fitting to close the standard edition as well as be the last single to be dropped after the quartet gone on hiatus. The lads co-wrote 14 out of 17 tracks here so a lot of those may be personal to them (like Perfect to Harry or Love you goodbye to Louis), but nothing beats History in my book. Each line, down to each phrase, comes sincerely from the heart, you can feel it.

You gotta help me, I’m losing my mind
Keep getting the feeling you wanna leave this all behind
Now my heart’s breaking and I don’t know what to do

All of the rumors, all of the fights
But we always find a way to make it out alive

Thought we were going strong
Thought we were holding on… aren’t we?

You and me got a whole lot of history
We could be the greatest team that the world has ever seen
You and me got a whole lot of history
So don’t let it go, we can make some more, we can live for-e-ver

Many read it as the history between 1D and Directioners; to my ears, it’s clearly about Zayn’s departure. It sounds so regretful despite the rhythmic clap, positive-sounding refrain, and all of the happy fronts the lads are projecting while singing the song, so much so that i only begin to get swept up in the celebratory mood from the bridge on, following Louis’ assertion that “This is not the end. This is not the end. We can make it, you know it, you know.”

Many doubt they would ever be back as One Direction and nobody can be entirely sure but the members themselves, yet for once i am. I can be wrong, but after seeing the tight group hug they had at The X Factor Final 2015, i can only believe in their sincerity and genuine fondness of one another, and that it’s a much-needed break (five albums in five years not to mention worldwide tours in between is no easy feat). Because the magic happens when they’re together, not separate. Because the wave Liam and Harry gestured before they split and walked off in different directions did look more “see you soon” than “see you around”, if that’s any indication.

…and because there’s actually more to that enigmatic ending, the last shot of them running back together… which the director plans to release once the lads do return as four. I’ll look forward to that footage then!

Long story short, Made in the A.M. is much better than expected and though not the group’s “best of”, it is plausibly their best and also my favorite album. Filled with easy listening and mostly mid-tempo songs, it is a nice record to be played and listened to at night. The ballads aren’t too slow and the upbeat ones aren’t too raucous (except Never enough i guess). As much as i love Take Me Home and miss their goofy/rolicking songs (only Temporary fix, Never enough, and Olivia to a certain extent fit the bill), i appreciate this music style which may even suit their tones better.

Speaking of which, i really like Louis’ here. It’s a big improvement cuz although i’ve always considered his raspy voice the easiest to discern, his and Niall’s run a bit too thin for my liking; but here, i enjoy his solo parts best in most songs. I still think Niall can benefit from singing more soulfully, but all in all i have no major complaints because even when the songs aren’t over-produced, their raw voices are beautiful and pleasing to the ears in addition to sounding good together. For me who likes One Direction for their music, good voice plus earworm songs is already a winning combination.

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“It’s inevitable everything that’s good comes to an end,” they lament, but i believe “this is not the end”.

_
Rating: 4.5/5

~ gif from mtv.com ~

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