More than a year after his group, One Direction, went on hiatus, Irish singer/songwriter Niall Horan became the third 1D member to release a solo studio full-length. Whereas Zayn Malik took his R&B talents into the bedroom and Harry Styles modeled himself after iconic rock frontmen of old, Horan went in a decidedly safer, center-lane direction on the yearning Flicker. Paying homage to classic rock influences like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Dire Straits, Horan contemporized those bands' sounds with pop flair, resulting in an immensely soothing and enjoyable record that fits nicely alongside those of Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes. Featuring production by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia), Julian Bunetta, and Mike Needle and Jamie Scott (One Direction), the mostly wholesome and wide-eyed Flicker bounces between youthful love songs -- including the surprisingly naughty single "Slow Hands" -- and relatable heartbreak laments. With simple, straightforward lyrics, the concise set of ten tracks is effective and hits the proper emotional notes. On "Too Much to Ask," a sad Horan reflects "My shadow's dancing without you for the first time," while on the standout title track, he repeats "Please don't leave" to a departed love. These tracks are emotional, surely, but against the backdrop of such delicate production, they are spared from becoming too self-indulgent and depressing. Elsewhere, the bass thrum and guitar work of Fleetwood Mac enliven Flicker, like on the "Dreams"-esque opener "On the Loose," the comforting "You and Me," and the lush "Since We're Alone," which also benefits from a faint "Sultans of Swing" influence. Without a weak song in the batch, Flicker is consistently full of highlights, including "Seeing Blind," a rousing duet with American country singer Maren Morris. One Directioners will no doubt relish every moment of Flicker, but for casual fans potentially wary of the boy band stigma, they can rest assured knowing that Horan has taken a big first step into musical maturity, with his own voice and deep well of emotion.
by Neil Z. Yeung
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