While one of his former bandmates becomes one of the world’s biggest artists, another gears up to drop his third album after some consistently moderate success and two more dramatically nosedive after scoring top 10 hits, the most unique post-OneDirection career trajectory yet has been Louis Tomlinson’s, who started out slow and has been steadily building up a more loyal fanbase. He’s essentially ascended the ranks and claimed the #3 spot. While part of the group’s splitting up was their desires to focus on more disparate areas of music, Tomlinson’s, while not the same kind of all-out boy band material, mostly stays in the same lane of cheery, midtempo pop tunes. To bring up his bandmates again, it also means that unlike the ones who surprised audiences by going deeper and getting more creative, Tomlinson’s music here remains squarely in the realm of the generic. There’s nothing here that’s unlistenable, but it also has to be the year’s most instantly forgettable album.
There are quite a few tracks on this album that all go for the kind of dramatic, “epic-sounding” pop-rock sound that scores a couple hits every year, but Tomlinson’s voice isn’t the greatest match to measure up to it. Opening track “The Greatest” drops him into a mix of more industrial, distorted sounds and a list of powerful buzzwords to say. It comes across a bit like an Imagine Dragons song, and it kicks off a run of tracks that are catchy enough to halfheartedly nod your head along to without much in the way of surprise. My gripe with the track “Written All Over Your Face” seems relatively minor, but it could apply to the album as a whole – something about the track’s long title being sung in such a stilted manner in the chorus, like most of its excitement could be gleaned from reading the title, almost feels like it’s mocking me for expecting something different or interesting. It’s like when a trailer spoils too much of the movie, and the opening tracks do that to the rest of the album by showcasing the formula. If there’s any track where Tomlinson comes close to reaching the heights his instrumentals ask of him, it’s “Bigger Than Me,” where he builds up to some impressive belted notes in the chorus while singing about recognizing that he needs to change along with the world. The harmonized bridge is a nice touch, briefly snapping listeners out of the album’s monotony.
The track “Lucky Again” switches gears with one of the more low-key offerings here, and it honestly seems like a place where Tomlinson’s vocals more naturally shine. With a breathier approach here and opting for falsetto instead of belts on the higher notes, he sinks into the indie-rock groove of the track and delivers one of the catchier choruses. The more freeform guitar parts that follow the chorus elevate a track that still has some truly surface-level lyrics. The overall lack of effort on this album is only emphasized by the fact that the deluxe edition plugs tracks into the middle of the tracklist, rather than the end – showing that this is just a collection of individual songs and nothing more. “Face The Music” tries once again to hit the big pop-rock sound and it makes for a very messy mix, ending up sounding like a blown-out version of Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” that’s hard to listen to with earphones. “Chicago” and “All This Time” already start to become tiresome as they continue to go back to the same sounds and predictable melodies, even before we hit the album’s midway point. These are all just borderline competent pop tracks to put on in the background. “Chicago” sounds more like a boy band cut than any of them here – it would have been the “Night Changes” type track on a OneDirection album, but it doesn’t hit as hard as that one.
The most bizarre track on the whole album might be “Out Of My System,” a brief, frantic track aiming for a dark-pop sound that has some hints of reggae energy for some reason. In a track where the play with silences in the chorus would have been essential to provide the energy boosts they’re clearly aiming for, it sounds like Tomlinson comes in a half-second out of rhythm, highlighted further by the instrumental cutting out, and they didn’t bother to fix it. “Saturdays” is the longest track here, a slower acoustic number meant to bring out the emotions as some strings well up in the background. The more specific lyrics certainly help the cause, as Tomlinson singing about missing the rejuvenating Saturdays with a former partner is touching. “Silver Tongues” drops right back into the formulae, with an odd sense that the melody has already been tried out earlier on the project, but the gang vocals and more raucous, party-centric atmosphere of the song as Tomlinson describes his wildest nights makes it a personality-driven standout on this tracklist.
Things wind down with a couple more decent tunes and a couple of big misfires. “She Is Beauty We Are World Class” is about as weird and disjointed as its title is, with some awkward lyrics, tempo switches and colliding motifs that don’t blend together at all – it’s like they took aspects of things they knew worked in other generic pop songs and assumed they’d all work together in this Frankenstein’s monster of a song. It’s truly a mess. “Common People” and “Angels Fly” are both solid tracks at the end, but we’ve come a little too far at this point – it’s not like we’re stumbling on anything new, they’re just doing the science of pop music a little better. Things fade out with “That’s The Way Love Goes,” a minimalistic acoustic closer built for Tomlinson to say a couple more platitudes and cliches.
Just like his time in the band, Tomlinson’s Faith In The Future truly doesn’t do anything to stand out, in a good or a bad way, meaning that he sunk into the background behind some bigger personalities. If you’re looking for the most clearly manufactured pop album of the year, it might be this one.
Favourite Tracks: Lucky Again, Saturdays, Bigger Than Me
Least Favourite Track: She Is Beauty We Are World Class