While Harry Styles cracked jokes and Liam Payne handled the polite stage patter – “Guys, thanks so much for coming!” – Niall Horan seemed to spend a large portion of One Direction‘s live shows with his head down, playing guitar. So it felt authentic last year when the Irishman said he was working on a folk-pop album inspired partly by Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles.
That album actually begins with a chugging pop-rock tune called ‘On The Loose’ that sounds a bit like The Police crossed with Maroon 5. And Horan’s recent hit single, ‘Slow Hands’, is a sleek and funky pop strut which has echoes of Ed Sheeran at his most infectious. But elsewhere, ‘Flicker’ tends to be slower and more stripped down. Low-key and folky, ‘This Town’ drips with wistful nostalgia, while ‘Too Much To Ask’ is a country-flecked ballad about the one that got away. The Fleetwood Mac influence is probably most pronounced on ‘Since We’re Alone’, a catchy slab of California rock that’s not too dissimilar, actually, from some of Harry Styles’ solo songs.
Aided by co-writers including Adele associate Tobias Jesso Jr. and his old One Direction collaborator Jamie Scott, Horan has crafted an album packed with affecting melodies. At its best, his songwriting is appealingly simple and straightforward: the title track offers an evocative portrait of a relationship that’s breaking down. But at times, Horan’s lyrics let him down a little. “In this house of broken hearts, we make our love on stacks of cards,” he sings on ‘Paper Houses’, jumbling his imagery a bit. The otherwise lovely ‘This Town’ is pockmarked by the line “[I’d] drive highways and byways to be there with you,” which sounds like something David Brent might sing when he whips his guitar out.
Still, it would be foolish to write off Horan’s solo debut because of a few clunky lyrics. This is a promising and well-pitched effort that suggests Horan knows exactly who he wants to be as an artist. ‘Flicker’ definitely gets his post-One Direction career off to a bright start.