Arista/78, 2020

Pop/Pop rock/Britpop

It’s something that’s inevitable for every boy band or girl group. Whether they break up or not, their members will always release solo albums. There are some exceptions to the rule, like Justin Timberlake, but in general the solo releases are never as successful as the group albums. With the release of Walls, every member of One Direction has now put out a solo effort. A couple were better than others but they’re pretty much following the same trend. I’m not even really a fan of 1D, but there is a certain something they have all together that none of them have quite delivered on their own. Walls is no exception, but now the question is exactly how short it falls.

It’s not uncommon for boy band members to try and brand themselves with a specific style when they try to strike out on their own. For the most part, the 1D guys have stayed pretty close to generic pop. Harry spread out a little on his last album and Niall played around with some acoustic guitars and a hint of folk pop, but that’s about as far as anyone had gone successfully. With Walls, Louis appears to be branding himself as the Britpop guy, more specifically the Oasis-style Britpop guy. This is apparent from the first song where he sings with a cadence that sounds like Liam Gallagher. And this same voice comes back along with Oasis-style melodies on nearly half of the tracks on the album, and the title track even has a very “Wonderwall”-esque drum fill (there’s actually a couple hints at “Wonderwall” on the album).

That’s not to say that an Oasis influence is a bad thing. There’s a reason they were one of the most popular British bands of the ’90s. They’ve probably influenced dozens, if not hundreds of artists. The problem comes when the influence crosses a line into just copying, and then copying to the extent that it’s distracting. And that’s a line that this album crosses, a lot. It’s not really saved by the rest of the tracks, either. They’re all pretty generic pop or acoustic ballads that teenage girls will latch onto and teenage boys will play to impress those same girls. One in particular, “Perfect Now,” feels like it’s trying to be this decade’s “Hey There Delilah,” but it makes more sense in the context of this pop album than “Delilah” did on a pop-punk album.

Lyrically, Louis does rise above your typical vapid pop on a couple tracks. The first is “Two of Us,” a track dedicated to Tomlinson’s mother, who died in 2016 after a bout with leukemia. In it, he promises to live on in her memory with a bright vision for the future. Another instance is “Too Young,” and while it does basically follow the trope of being too young to fully realize what love is, it kind of approaches it from a different angle. Here Tomlinson is apologizing for giving into the pressure of others telling him he was too young and cutting off a relationship in a bad way. So the way I’m hearing it is he admits he was too young to understand true love, but also too young to realize that what they had probably could have lasted…? Maybe? I don’t know, but to me it’s a little refreshing despite the overall trope of the song. The rest of the lyrics on the album don’t really present much to write home about, but he does manage to avoid truly cringe-inducing lyrics for the most part.

Overall, Walls isn’t a terrible album, but it’s not a particularly good one, either. It’s greatest sin is ripping off Oasis, and there are far worse musical sins that one can commit. But it is a pervasive sin, nonetheless. Beyond that, there are two lyrical bright spots and the rest of the tracks are pretty forgettable pop. I don’t fault Louis for trying to give himself an identity outside of One Direction, but he really should have tried to find his own instead of adopting someone else’s.





Mega Collider, 2019

Alternative/Pop rock

Do I really need to tell you who Third Eye Blind are? You know, the “Semi-Charmed Life” guys? The “Jumper” guys? Really? Alright fine. Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band that formed in the ’90s and hit the world with a one-two-three punch of top 10 singles on their 1997 self-titled debut. Two of those singles were the ones I mentioned before. The third was “How’s It Going to Be.” They quickly followed up with the 1999 album Blue that, in some regards, was an improvement over their debut, but it was not as successful. And their popularity continued to decline from there despite remaining active and releasing new music semi-regularly.

Screamer is the band’s sixth album, and the first after frontman Stephan Jenkins announced that the band wouldn’t be releasing anymore full-length albums. So do what you want with that. Prior to release, Jenkins kept referring to the album under the working title Summer Gods and said it would be an EP with experimentation in other genres, including trap music. Mercifully, what we got is something more cohesive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And they didn’t completely abandon the promise of trap music.

The album actually starts out pretty strong. It opens with the title track (featuring Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells), and while it fits in with modern alternative pop rock trends, it’s still on-brand for Third Eye Blind and noisy enough to keep your attention. Following that you have perhaps the best song on the album, “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down).” It’s a high energy guitar rock song with lyrics of protest and the hope of the future generations. It’s the closest thing on this album to the spirit of old school Third Eye Blind.

After this you get “Ways” and “Tropic Scorpio.” The former would be a mostly forgettable track if the lyrics didn’t creep into cringey territory. The latter is the only other point where they get close to the sound and feel of their peak, but it’s another case where the lyrics bring it down a few notches. Unfortunately things start to rapidly decline after this. The worst offenders are “Walk Like Kings,” “Got so High,” and “2X Tigers.”

As I mentioned before, they didn’t completely abandon the promise of trap music, and “2X Tigers” is the track that delivers on that promise. The result is a wandering, auto-tuned mess with a sparse beat and the whole thing feels out of place. Similarly, while “Walk Like Kings” is presented in an alternative pop rock sound, the lyrics wouldn’t be out of place in a modern trap song with lines about “motherfuckers fucking with my flow,” a G550, and “living the lux life.” “Got so High” has a pre-chorus that just repeats the word sugar over a dozen times as the tempo gets slower for the chorus, and the rest of the lyrics don’t make much sense either.

The rest of the songs aren’t really terrible, just mostly forgettable pop rock. The only one that really stands out with some level of lyrical depth is “Light It Up,” which seems to be about the fond memories of a friend who has passed.

Overall, it feels like Third Eye Blind and blink-182 are suffering from the same affliction. Both of these bands appealed to a specific demographic at their peaks and they’re desperately trying to appeal to the same demographic of this generation despite being 20 year veterans of the music industry. Screamer has a couple songs that will get the attention of older fans, but the rest feels like mediocre or just plain poor attempts at being relevant in today’s musical landscape.