Liam Payne has come a long way since 2010 when, as a teenager, he rocked up at The X Factor with a giant fringe and Bond-theme level rendition of ‘Cry Me A River’. After becoming a member of One Direction – one of the world’s most successful boy bands – in his late teens, Payne has grown up under the glare of the spotlight.
After the band went on indefinite hiatus in 2016, 1D have been heading off in separate directions, showing their individual leanings. Preceded by a handful of singles – all of which appear on this album – Liam’s own solo effort has been several years in the making. It’s the first substantial glimpse into what he’s about: Liam Payne has previously referred to it as a “playlist album” that demonstrates his diverse tastes.
Often ‘LP1’ sounds like its gunning for commercial radio play and coveted playlist spots. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this album is often so focused on hitting every check box that it forgets how to have fun. Previous single ‘Stack It Up’ is one a stand-out hit, though also comes off like ‘Shape of You’ with an impending car MOT on the way. Payne blends his high-flying aspirations with contrasting down-to-earth tidbits: “Trying to get in the club, they wanna see ID,” he sings, with a familiar cadence to his delivery, “want me to wear nice shoes and a T-I-E”.
In fairness, Ed Sheeran is credited as a co-writer, but the resemblance is uncanny. Elsewhere there’s trend-tapping reggaeton, beachy pop and a dollop of trap. A twinkly Christmas song – ‘All I Want For Christmas’ – is whacked on at the end for good measure, complete with a dramatic string section. All of this musical flitting comes at the expense of any real depth.
‘Both Ways’ is perhaps meant to be ‘LP1’s ‘naughty’ moment – but it comes off as leery instead. His girl likes it “both ways” and “like[s] the way it all tastes” and Payne’s keen to bring things back to his place. It’s actually cack-handed rather than sinister. Numerous lyrics emphasise his partner’s agency, hammering home the point that this threesome situation is her idea: lucky ol’ Liam has merely been invited to the party. He even emphasises, at every possible opportunity, that he doesn’t judge or discriminate.
The problem is that ‘Both Ways’ couples this apparently limitless tolerance with a severe case of phallic fixation. “Oh girl I can fill it / I can fill what you want,” husks Liam, relaying a sentiment that’s lazy and heteronormative. There are unfortunately already enough pop songs that frame queer women’s sexual enjoyment as something that’s performed solely for the gratification of a man, and quite frankly they should all get in the bin. Surely we can raise the bar a bit higher than this?
Missteps aside, ‘LP’ was can be fun when it does loosen up a little more. ‘Familiar’, which features the Colombian artist J Balvin, shows a different side to the former 1D star, Payne embracing his role with hearty vocal interjections. “If it’s cool I wanna get inside your… brain” he sings, playfully letting the pause hang for a second. ‘Heart Meet Break’ pulls off a hefty dose of noughties-inspired pop and ‘Bedroom Floor’ is a defiant break-up bop that keeps coming back for more. It’s clear here that Payne and his collaborators were having a ball.
On the whole, this is a mixed bag. ‘LP1’ shows a more grown-up side to the former One Direction member, and cherry-picks from pretty much every genre that’s in vogue right now. The problem is that it doesn’t tell us much about Liam Payne.
Release date: December 6
Record label: Capitol