In the liner notes to Take Me Home, the rush-job second album from the amply coifed scamps in One Direction, the young Brits thank "Uncle Si, the man behind it all and without whom 1D would not exist." As well the laddies should!
Who is this relative? Why Simon Cowell, of course, creator of American Idol and The X Factor, the overseas version of which spawned the prefab teen-poppers. Cowell, unlike anyone else in 21st century pop, understands that when feeding the masses, a tasty burger, delivered fast, fresh and cheap, beats filet mignon every time.
That's just what One Direction cooks on Take Me Home, although in smaller portions than on 2011 debut Up All Night, which topped charts in 16 countries (!) and was the first debut by a British group to drop at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart (!!). That record featured two stellar pop tunes, What Makes You Beautiful and the downright life-affirming One Thing.
There's nothing that hooky among the 13 new tracks, and that deficiency may be because getting new product out there while the boys are still a phenomenon — and their googly-eyed fans are still under 15 — is more important than making sure every song is a winner. This one arrives less than a year after the first one, and it shows.
The boys — Liam! Louis! Zayn! Niall! And tabloid magnet Harry! — have two song styles. There's whooshy balladry aimed at awkward tweens desperate for a boy, preferably one with an accent, to treat them like a princess. On Little Things, the harmonizers just lovvvve those imperfections: "crinkles by your eyes," "your stomach or your thighs." Ugh. At least the dopey wordplay works better on Last First Kiss.
The quintet also chants out synth-rock spaz-outs such as the pleasantly pogoing Kiss You, co-written by Britney Spears producer Shellback. Alas, the party cuts are thin too: Live While We're Young lifts from the Clash and features a smarmy aside from resident bad boy Harry Styles: "Tonight let's get some." Oh, don't get bent out of shape, moms. On the first LP, Styles smirked out something worse ("People going all the way!") and moms hardly noticed.
Being smutty isn't how 1D got wealthy. As far as your kid is concerned, these blokes just want to have fun, cuddle, repeat. And if the new album lacks originality (Rock Me could be the most generic song ever), it's good enough to keep fans frothing until the third album. Hopefully they'll have more time to record that one — and Harry manages to keep his head, and hair, about him.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.