Capitol Records · March 13, 2020
Listening to Niall Horan’s sophomore solo album Heartbreak Weather is like eating a stale chip: I’m not going to spit it out, but I’m also definitely not going to eat another. The former “nice guy” of One Direction has had the most surprisingly successful solo career among the bandmates. While Harry Styles was destined to become the Justin Timberlake of One Direction, Niall frequently fell under the radar in the group, with his underwhelming voice and vanilla personality. But against all odds, Niall’s debut album Flicker set him up to be the folksy member of the group and he landed a number one on the Billboard 200. However, it is undeniable that he has only received this notoriety because of his history with the boy band. While Flicker was coffee shop background music, Heartbreak Weather feels more like One Direction’s 6th album – just without the harmonies and personality that made them a sensation.
As a former directioner and a self proclaimed “Niall girl” myself, this was a hard pill to swallow. While Heartbreak Weather may satisfy the washed up 20-something directioners, it doesn’t aim to gain a new audience. Expansive pop choruses on “Arms of a Stranger” and “Everywhere” feel lifted right out of the rejects from One Direction’s Four. They’re not unenjoyable but it’s hard to not think about how much better they would be with a Harry Styles solo or a Zayn Malik riff. Niall attempts to shake off the nice guy trope on awkwardly sexual tracks. On “Small Talk” he uncomfortably requests to “skip the small talk and go straight up to your room,” inducing as much cringe as one would expect. Unfortunately the breathless, but steady beat on “Small Talk” is the most interesting departure from straightforward pop Niall takes on the album. While Harry Styles’ solo career has jumped leaps and bounds from his history with the band, Niall is still clearly stuck.
Most of the album, to be honest, falls in an uncertain area of forgetfulness. It’s even more painful to realize this considering how hard he is obviously working to market this record. The awkward weatherman scene he played out on his Instagram stories seemed to lock him in this immature boy band stage. Tracks like “Dear Patience,” “Black and White,” and “San Francisco” fall in this bland mixture of radio pop and plain folk. Similarly to Flicker, this is the kind of music to listen to when a coffee shop is playing it, not the kind you go and download later on. Niall so frequently falls in this stale line because his songwriting is weak while put up against sparse production. All 14 songs contain heartbreak song cliches mixed with lazy rhyming that make the album not worth a second listen.
While Heartbreak Weather is clearly not the inspiring solo take many were wishing Niall had in him, it still comes with a few hidden gems. On piano solo “Put A Little Love On Me,” Niall sounds the most genuine, free of any classic boyband production. The husky and tender layers of his voice are highlighted in a way he hasn’t truly let through before. The delicate side of his voice shines best on the final track “Still.” On this acoustic folk and pop mix, Niall’s calming voice blends into an echoey chorus that feels as serene as the title suggests.
Heartbreak Weather will find its audience in fans who miss the 2014 One Direction sound. But as an album to lead a former boyband member out of the shadow of the group, it fails. It’s impossible to talk about Niall Horan’s solo music without mentioning his history with One Direction because, as Heartbreak Weather shows, he’s clearly still stuck in it.