One Direction attempts to take a left turn on new album
By Thomas Conner Pop Music Criticemail@example.com November 12, 2012 6:30PM
Soundgarden's "King Animal" hits stores Tuesday.
Updated: December 14, 2012 6:07AM
One Direction, “Take Me Home” (Columbia) ★½ In between world tours, Britain’s biggest boy band One Direction managed to squeeze in a follow-up to its massively successful debut album, last year’s “Up All Night.” You already know what it sounds like — not because the entire album leaked last week but because you’ve heard this kind of computer-generated, engineered-to-within-an-inch-of-our-lives pop music a hundred times before. “Take Me Home” is blinding with its Mentos gleam and sounds as if each song has been run through and approved by Hit Song Science, software that analyzes music patterns and matches them with those shared by the world’s biggest hits.
But even though the songs on “Take Me Home” have been overly constructed, they’re occasionally peppy and fun and at least imagine themselves to be more rock-and-roll than the usual boy-band R&B. One Direction, in that sense, is way more New Kids on the Block than Backstreet Boys — they’ve got the looks and the meet-cute pop songs, but they’re certainly not fleet of foot (and, thus, not exactly engaging in concert).
As if winking to the parents who will be enduring this record almost as often as their young daughters will wear it out, the first track, “Live While We’re Young,” opens with a riff practically plagiarized from the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The boys’ own nostalgia doesn’t reach back quite that far. In an attempt to actually rock, a song called “Rock Me” (full of the most brittle, digitally emaciated guitars you’ll ever hear), they ask, “Do you remember the summer of ’09?”
As with their smash hit “What Makes You Beautiful,” new single “Little Things” seems aimed directly at young girls struggling with self-image. “You’ve never loved your stomach or your thighs / the dimples in your back at the bottom of your spine,” sings 1D’s Liam Payne, followed by Harry Styles adding, “You still have to squeeze into your jeans / but you’re perfect to me.” This is either endearing or creepy. Either way, this time around the lads, each aged between 18 and 20, are definitely noticing women’s bodies and thinking it through. The living they declare to do while young includes a determination to “get some,” “Kiss You” is offered as a pump-priming option “if you don’t wanna take it slow,” and in “Last First Kiss” intentions are more direct: “I want to be the first to take it all the way.”
The individual members — Payne, Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan — are more easily discerned on this record than before, although no one really stands out more than another. 1D is still presented very much as a group, with no Justin Timberlake stepping to the fore quite yet. Their unity already has displayed its might, however. “Live While We’re Young” enjoyed the biggest first-week sales for any non-U.S. act in history. Bieber beware.
Soundgarden, “King Animal” (A&M/Interscope) ★★½— Legacies usually tremble at the suggestion of reunions, but “King Animal” — the first new Soundgarden material in 16 years — is more a continuation and development of a particular sound rather than a labored relaunch of a rock brand. In the paradigm-shifting years since Soundgarden called it quits, singer Chris Cornell has done plenty to tarnish the band’s reputation all by himself (some God-awful solo records, his villainous Bond theme, even much of Audioslave with guitarist Tom Morello). Despite the requisite nods to Thomas Wolfe’s famous advice — the album opens with a cliché-stuffed “Been Away Too Long,” and later in “Black Saturday” Cornell mentions being “born again” — this album bashes out usually tuneful hard-rock riffs, gets psychedelic without getting too corny, and often possesses remarkable restraint.
That’s a good thing — once the front-loaded thrashers are out of the way, “King Animal” settles into a more considered, muscled and sometimes sludgy (for good and ill) mid-tempo affair. “A Thousand Days Before” hums underneath a driving, occasionally tumbling riff, with guitar solos that punctuate instead of pondering. “Bones of Birds” flies low and slow, with delicious tension between voice and guitar. The latter, from versatile guitarist Kim Thayil, bestows this album with most of its regality. Even obvious throwaways like “Worse Dreams” have their brief sparkly moments, and though Cornell’s koans in “Rowing” are cheesy at best, it’s the kind of bridge Soundgarden ably engineers between classic-rock shamanism and modern-rock grind.
Sonic Youth, “Smart Bar Chicago 1985” (Goofin’)★★★½— Sonic Youth’s sophomore album, 1985’s “Bad Moon Rising,” was a curious crossroads; from this bleak point, they could have veered into forgettable Goth-rock drama as easily as they ascended to post-rock iconoclasm. But this magnificent unearthed recording — captured Aug. 11, 1985, at Smart Bar, Metro’s sister club in Wrigleyville — is Exhibit AAA in the case for the band’s status as once-innovative legends. The original four-track cassette can barely handle the thundering cacophony, but the restraint shown in the dissonant “I Love Her All the Time” and the controlled burn of “Expressway to Yr Skull” (a song which would show up on the next album, “EVOL,” which Thurston Moore introduces here using the title “Anarchy on St. Mark’s Place”) makes the inevitable rattle of speakers/earbuds so worth it. Come for the local and band history — engineer Aaron Mullan claims this is “the earliest live multitrack of a Sonic Youth show known to exist” — but stay for some of the overheard comments from the audience. “I don’t know that much about ’em,” a woman is heard muttering as the show opens with “Hallowe’en.” As the monstrous clang of “The Burning Spear” transitions into “Expressway,” another woman utters a no doubt fruitless desire: “I wanna dance.” Good luck with that.