Album Reviews

Niall Horan – The Show

(EMI) UK release date: 9 June 2023

Short but sweet, his third album reminds us that former One Direction alumni beyond Harry Styles are available

Niall Horan - The Show When Harry Styles propelled himself to solo superstardom around the turn of the decade, it felt inevitable. The other former members of One Direction had their time in the sun, but no one else could compete anymore. A few years have passed and Niall Horan (the cute Irish one) has come along to prove that theory slightly wrong, with a brisk 30 minutes of music that runs the gamut from contemplative via boisterous to shamelessly twee.

The Show opens with a winner of a lead single, as Heaven fuses a jangly bass guitar line with lyrics about a budding relationship and vocal layers which are suitably heavenly. If You Leave Me shows off Horan’s vocal range, declaring his attachment over a delightfully eccentric 6/8 backdrop* (“Waking up with you gone in the morning / Going to sleep with you not here at night / Oh these feelings, they would just be so foreign / Can’t you stay for the rest of my life?”). Indeed, so much of this record is about being smitten that one has to assume the subject matter reflects his actual situation.

Deeper into the record, Never Grow Up’s muted organ chords and lo-fi vocal snippets are fascinating: it’s a shame, therefore, that we only hear these as brief bookends while the main track is a familiar-sounding country-pop number. Meanwhile, anyone who has paid any attention to mainstream music recently could tell you driving ’80s arrangements are somewhat in vogue, but Save My Life goes the whole hog with sparkling keyboards, crunchy rhythm guitar and a squealing sax solo, levels of bombast to rival The 1975 at their poppiest.

A significant part of The Show’s appeal is down to Horan’s quiet charm – he always sounded far more convincing in his low-key guitar-based tunes than, for example, Liam Payne in his perplexing attempts at club bangers. Thus a couple of songs rely on minimal accompaniment and go for the singer-songwriter aesthetic, such as You Could Start A Cult with its gentle strumming and whimsical vocals (“Baby / you could start a cult, you see / They will say that we’re crazy / But you are so much more than beautiful to me”). Putting this track and Save My Life right next to each other might reveal an eccentric approach to sequencing – it’s not even the break between side A and B on the vinyl – but it’s also an impressive display of the versatility which has got him this far.

One of the few songs on here that isn’t dominated by love is the self-consciously grand title track, on which Horan waxes lyrical about imperfections, and how a life without its ups and downs would be no life at all, over orchestral flourishes and a subtly groovy drum pattern. This is a recurring sub-plot of The Show, as Heaven also touches on our tendency to overcomplicate things and closing number Must Be Love sees our plucky protagonist overcoming their neuroses to embrace the spontaneous feeling of romance. Have fun, don’t sweat the small stuff, fall in love – as pop albums go that’s not a bad moral to the story.

As an earworm hook gives way to the final rallentando, we are left with a record that finds Horan more at ease than on Heartbreak Weather, some gold-plated toplines ringing in our ears, and a timely reminder that other boyband alumni are available.

* Julian Bunetta, who also produced Slow Hands, seems to have arranged a competent signal chain for the vocals this time which is nice

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