By Ansharah Shakil, November 30 2023—
The year is 2013, and dozens of One Direction fans are watching the interactive livestream presentation of 1D Day, intended to promote the band’s third album Midnight Memories, released on Nov. 25, 2013. Of course, the album itself was actually leaked seven days before the official release, which meant that on 1D Day, the band had to awkwardly pretend none of their audience had heard it. But if ever there was a One Direction album that justified fans being unable to wait to hear it, it’s Midnight Memories, a game-changer for the band’s sound, full of dramatic, endearing charm and bastardized pop-rock that’s fun more than anything else. It’s not their best album — that honour belongs to 2014’s Four — but it is where the band started to come into their own sound, taking risks that created a messily marvellous album. Ten years after the album’s release, it’s still one of pop’s most ever-lasting albums, and its 18 songs, reviewed below, easily prove that’s the case.
“Best Song Ever”
Otherwise known as the single with the greatest One Direction music video to exist, “Best Song Ever” is Midnight Memories at its best: addictive like a sugar rush, made for singing and dancing along to.
“Story of My Life”
“Story of My Life” feels like one of the most authentic tracks on the album, its effortless acoustic guitar and poignant lyrics making for a lovely ballad.
“Diana” is a pop song that plays to its strengths, sweet but affecting and immediately grabbing from the get-go. Its lyrics are a reminder that though the band’s fans have been belittled or dismissed, the band itself has often supported them.
“Midnight Memories” follows in the vein of 2011’s “Up All Night”, ditzy and catchy and the band’s first tentative foray into rock. Though the chorus’s riff is a little too reminiscent of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, it’s still an admirable album title track.
“You & I”
Zayn Malik’s high note in “You & I” is genuinely the greatest thing to come out of Midnight Memories. With defiantly intimate lyrics, honey-slow guitar strings and polished vocals, this is one of the most memorable songs on the album.
“Don’t Forget Where You Belong”
The wistful, soft-rock “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” is the band’s ode to home when travelling on tour. In the immortal words of One Direction: “If you ever feel alone, don’t.”
“Strong” remains a definite standout from the band. Putting aside its crisp production and vocals, it contains some of the best lyrics of the album — “My hands, your hands / Tied up like two ships” and “My heart, your heart / sit tight like bookends” are examples of how every word is delivered like a punch, contained and precisely chosen.
Upbeat, simple and snappy, “Happily” is a track on fire with desperate desire. Granted, “if he feels my traces in your hair” is in the running for the weirdest One Direction lyric, but when it sounds this good, who cares?
The bittersweet lyrics and evocative chords of “Right Now” make its acoustic influences all the more soothing and stirring.
“Little Black Dress”
“Little Black Dress” marks a definite, bold change from One Direction’s sound for the positive. The vocals are excellent and effortless, balanced perfectly with the confident drumline and winding, brazen electric guitar.
“Through the Dark”
The heartwarming lyrics of “Through the Dark” make this acoustic, percussion-fuelled track a hopeful scorcher of a song.
The gentle, tranquil piano throughout “Something Great” along with its clear chords and affecting harmonies create a searingly romantic song and one gut-wrenching line: “The script was written and I could not change a thing / I want to rip it all to shreds and start again.”
“Little White Lies”
With a rhythmic synthesizer and screaming bass that builds and builds until the irresistible chorus comes to head, this one’s an entertaining brief return to bubblegum pop for the band.
“Better Than Words”
What’s more delightfully pop and tongue-in-cheek than forming a love song made of song titles from other love songs and calling it “Better Than Words”?
“Why Don’t We Go There”
Is it weirdly misogynistic? Yes. Is its upbeat urgency strangely enthralling? Also yes.
“Does He Know?”
The revving electric guitar and solid vocals of this song are still good, but it mostly feels like a rehash of “Why Don’t We Go There” and “Happily.”
The grounded rock sound here, with its drawling vocals scraping across the guitar, turns the more absurd lyrics of “Alive” into something you can’t help but enjoy. The bridge in particular makes this a heady rush of a song.
“Half a Heart”
This closing track marks a return to the acoustic guitar, although it’s just not as compelling here as it is in other songs, amusing as it is to hear the band sing about walking around with just one shoe.
The rest of Midnight Memories, however, more than makes up for that. Slick, sincere, playful and infectious, it’s a no-skip album meant to be sung out loud that still holds up, not just for One Direction’s discography, but for pop records in general.