Another month, another former One Direction head releasing a solo album. Look, they might as well get them out of the way before the inevitable big bucks reunion, right?
Like his former bandmate Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson is only getting around to releasing his first solo album 'Walls' now, while Harry and Niall have already released/are about to release their second.
On a serious note, Tomlinson has also been the 1D member most beset by personal tragedy over the last few years; his mum Johannah sadly died from cancer in 2016 while his little sister Felicite died tragically last year. There's no doubt that those events will have factored into his songwriting.
His love life is bound to factor in, too. He's described the album as his 'journey' ove the last three years. “Leaving the band, then going out on to the really crazy party scene, and then I’ve kind of ended up full circle back with Eleanor, who I love dearly,” he told fans.
As for musical style, it's hard to know what to expect. Tomlinson's first solo single 'Just Hold On' back in 2016 was an EDM track with renowned DJ Steve Aoki, but then again, Noel Gallagher gave him permission to use elements of Oasis songs on the title track. Let's not forget, too, that he has kept a foot firmly plonked in the pop world, thanks to his time as a judge on The X Factor.
Only one way to find out, isn't there? Let's go...
'Kill My Mind'
Right so, there's definitely an indie vibe to this song – is it going to set the tone for the entire album? Heck, there's even a Liam Gallagher-esque inflection to Louis' voice here, as a briskly strummed guitar explodes into an upbeat indiepop-rock chorus. It's a love song, although not necessarily an obvious one, with lines like “You kill my mind and raise my body back to life / And I don't know what I'd do without you now”. We're just gonna say it: if someone told us that this was an album track on one of Oasis's last two efforts, we'd probably believe them.
'Don't Let It Break Your Heart'
This was released as a single last year, so fans will be familiar with its 'keep going through the pain' message. Another guitar-based number, the pace is taken down a tad for this tenderly-sung song with a surging, singalong chorus about losing someone, or perhaps the break-up of a relationship. To our ears, it has a bit of a resemblance to the 1D song 'Steal My Girl' – just us?
'2 of Us'
Call us pedantic, but if there's one thing that drives us mental, it's the phrase 'It's been a minute'. It's an American way of saying 'It's been quite a while' or 'It's been ages' – so why is Louis Bloody Tomlinson using it in the first line of this song? He's from Doncaster, FFS. Rant over, this is another sad ballad-with-a-beat about his late mum.
Look, you can't possibly criticise the sincerity of this song; its lyrics would bring a tear to a glass eye ("This morning I woke up still dreaming / With memories playing through my head / You'll never know how much I miss you / The day that they took you, I wish it was me instead”). Musically, the chorus gets a bit clunky and generic and there are even the obligatory violins that sweep in to add emotional heft. It might have had a bigger impact as a stripped-back number, that's all we're saying.
'We Made It'
Over a strummed acoustic guitar intro, Louis adopts that mad-fer-it nasal vocal swagger again – until the thud of pop drums kicks in and betrays his boyband roots. It's a perfectly listenable midtempo pop song, but a bit forgettable, all told.
Louis has been looking back a lot lately. We know this because he says so in this song – an apology of-sorts to an ex-girlfriend that he hurt because they were 'too young'. A simply strummed guitar ditty with a toe-tappy beat, it's got a sweet, simple little melody that's mercifully not ruined by glossy pop production. Will it set the world alight? Nah, it's been done before and done better by many other artists - but it's certainly one of the better songs so far.
“Nothing wakes you up like waking up alone”. Pretty profound opening line, dude. This is the tune that borrows from Oasis; considering the chorus is a dead ringer for 'Acquiesce', that's not surprising. There are audible elements of 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' in there, too. It's certainly a decent pop song – but have 1D fans graduated into the 'lighters aloft' phase yet? Probably not. And is it good enough to win over older indie fans in the way that Harry Styles has? Probably not. That might be the problem with where Louis is right now – he's on the fence, musically.
Another laidback indiepop song that you can imagine a band like Athlete or Embrace (ask your parents, kids) putting out in the late 1990s/early 2000s. It's perfectly fine. We personally have a soft spot for this kind of cheesy indie tune (especially ones with crashing drums and sweeping strings), but will his fanbase get on board with this change of style?
Hang on a minute, we take it back – maybe he's not totally done with pop just yet. That said, there's really no distinguishing quality to this tune. We're guessing this might be about his girlfriend Eleanor Calder, from whom he split in 2015 and reunited with in 2017 (“Should have never let you go”). He sings about his jetsetting lifestyle and how he never felt at home anywhere without her – and there's also a reference to how “I know you hate to smoke without me”. You mean cigarettes Louis, yeah?
With a stark pop ballad intro, it's not clear who this song is addressed to – but it's certainly one of the most dramatic songs on the album, with lyrics like 'Tell me the truth, tell me do you still remember feeling you're strong enough to get it wrong in front of all these people?' The indie thread continues throughout this song. Y'know what it reminds us of, actually? This sounds like Louis' version of Robbie Williams' 'No Regrets'.
Louis returns to a briskly-plucked acoustic guitar for this sweet little ditty, where he encourages the object of his affection to 'Keep your head up love, don't look away' as gentle violins enhance the mood. “I guess some queens don't need a crown, and I know why / Even when your tears are falling down, still somehow you're perfect now”. It's all very Ed Sheeran, if you're into that sort of thing.
“Wish I didn't need so much of you / I hate to say it, but I do.” Oh great, another love song. Don't get us wrong: it's lovely that the chap is in love, but it makes for subject matter that gets a little dull when it's repeated ad infinitum. “I'm not asking too much, just wanna be loved by you”, he sings, around a big crashing (yet forgettable) pop chorus. It's grand. The biggest problem with this album is that there are some nice ideas and lovely melodies here and there, but yet again, it's not very memorable.
'Only the Brave'
One last roll of the indie dice, then. The album's last track sees Tomlinson revert to his love of all things Oasis and again, this could pass for a (late-era!) Oasis b-side if you stuffed cotton wool in your ears (alright, one written by Liam, then.) The filter on his voice and the roughly strummed guitar gives it a bit of character.
Verdict: Louis Tomlinson has always been one of 1D's more interesting characters; even when the boyband were at the height of their powers, he seemed like a bit of a mis-match for a pop band and seemed to outgrow their teenybopper vibe long before they decided to go on hiatus.
His debut solo album embraces his love of indie music but doesn't quite go far enough. There are some really tender moments that undoubtedly show his flair for lyric-writing, but there are zero risks in a musical sense - and no surprises whatsoever.
If he makes another album, it might be time to try writing with musicians that can bring something new to the table. For now, this is fine – but we won't be returning to it like we have with his one-time bandmate Harry Styles' latest record.