Whenever a boy band breaks up, there is always one, maybe two, members that stick out, and that critics will say has staying power. In the case of British-Irish boy band One Direction, those members are Harry Styles and Niall Horan. While Styles has gone on to become one of the best-known stars of the last decade, his former bandmate Niall Horan has quietly become known as the next band member to be sticking around for the long haul. Going on the UK X Factor at the age of sixteen, Horan’s audition singing Ne-Yo’s “So Sick,” didn’t initially impress the judges, though Katy Perry felt that Horan had “a seed” of talent, ultimately getting him through the audition and onto the next round. Having success with One Direction over the next five years gave Horan the success he dreamed of, though it was never quite clear what his success would be like as a solo artist. With two albums Flicker (2016) and Heartbreak Weather (2020,) we saw Horan come into his own with his own flair and style. With his third LP The Show, being released this past Friday, we hear Horan’s most mature release, becoming a road warrior once again, as he has festival dates scheduled throughout the summer and an international tour starting next year. While Heartbreak Weather was released too little to no fanfare due to the pandemic, on The Show we are reminded of his talent and aptitude for writing songs.
Opening with “Heaven,” we have a strong starting point to the record with a chorus you won’t be able to stop singing. From the start, “Heaven,” feels like it sheds the adolescent feel of Horan’s previous album openers. As the first single, it’s also a strong indicator of what’s to come for the rest of the tracks on The Show. “Never Grow Up,” talks about growing up with a significant other while Horan hopes that they will not lose their young perspective and zest for life. Writing so openly about relationships is something that Horan has not done before, and perhaps his three-year relationship with fashion buyer Amelia Woolley has been helping as far as songwriting material. The laidback tune highlights his vocal and writing ability while welcoming his third decade of life with open arms.
Perhaps the strongest song on the record is its title track. While Horan has dived into piano-driven cuts before, “The Show” feels haunting and is lyrically one of the best tracks on the album. Speaking about the ups and downs of life, Horan is embracing the next part of his adult life, and “The Show,” is the sign that he not only wants to age with the rest of the music industry but also with his fans.
“You Could Start a Cult,” is perhaps the best acoustic track that Horan has written so far, as he dives further into the folk stylings, he introduced on his debut record Flicker. A stripped-back track with his signature finger-plucking and even a harmonica part, the tune feels like a tribute to songwriters such as Bob Dylan. While his fans may not be all that familiar with influences such as Fleetwood Mac or Bruce Springsteen, Horan has made it his mission to pay tribute to the musicians whom he grew up listening to. Without them, he probably would not have been able to make such a great record. To close out The Show, we hear “Must Be Love,” and while it’s a strong track, it doesn’t carry the same excitement as the other songs, making the album closer a bit of a letdown, but it doesn’t take away from the likeability of the other tunes. While it may take another album or two for Horan to be fully embraced by any skeptics, The Show is a strong start to reaching this goal.