- 09 Jun 23
Mullingar superstar’s convincing reinvention
Words like ‘unpredictable’ and ‘unprecedented’ dominated conversations for much of 2020 – and as overused as those terms may be, they remain the most apt way of describing the impossibly unfortunate timing of Niall Horan’s last album, Heartbreak Weather. Unleashed into the world mere hours after Leo Varadkar made his historic public address from Washington D.C. about the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mullingar artist’s LP was almost instantly swallowed in a sea of confusion, fear and cancelled concerts.
But despite the upheaval of the months and years that followed, Niall found himself loaded with something that today’s stars typically have in severely limited supply: time to think. Where Heartbreak Weather occasionally ran aground in uneven and unfocused pop territory, his new album, The Show, immediately comes across as a much more considered project, with experimentation and nostalgic elements expertly combined and explored.
It’s an album shaped by love, though not of the Hallmark variety – unless you've seen a Valentine’s Day card emblazoned with the message: ‘You Could Start A Cult’. The title track also showcases the expanded worldview that comes with moving through and out of your twenties, with Niall gearing up to turn 30 this year.
Across a tidy ten tracks, The Show resists repetition and formulaic structuring, as it moves effortlessly from the aforementioned stripped-back ‘You Could Start A Cult’ – in which he shows off his harmonica chops – and the pounding, ‘80s-inspired elation of ‘Save My Life’.
As an artist who’s always been vocal about his influences, he’s finally created proper space for them on The Show – with touches of The Beach Boys and the other harmony-heavy, era-defining sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s, possibly owing to co-writes with the likes of fellow retro-oriented artists like Tobias Jesso Jr. The result is genuinely engaging pop, reinforced with an inherent honesty behind the Californian sheen.
In the post-One Direction world, Harry Styles led the pack in demonstrating how to turn 21st-century boyband stardom into something simultaneously thoughtful, stylish and packed with mass appeal. It looks like Niall has taken a cue or two from his former bandmate here – most notably on ‘Meltdown’, which brings a similar energy as Harry’s globe-conquering ‘As It Was’.
As Niall kicks off his first ever summer of festivals, including an Electric Picnic slot, he’s stepping onstage as a star who has officially graduated from charming teen idol to an artist on his own path – armed with his most convincing collection of tracks to date.