One Direction, “Take Me Home” (Columbia) — In between world tours, Britain’s biggest boy band One Direction managed to squeeze in a follow-up to its massively successful debut album, last year’s “Up All Night.” You already know what it sounds like — not because the entire album leaked last week but because you’ve heard this kind of computer-generated, engineered-to-within-an-inch-of-our-lives pop music a hundred times before. “Take Me Home” is blinding with its Mentos gleam and sounds as if each song has been run through and approved by Hit Song Science, software that analyzes music patterns and matches them with those shared by the world’s biggest hits.
But even though the songs on “Take Me Home” have been overly constructed, they’re occasionally peppy and fun and at least imagine themselves to be more rock-and-roll than the usual boy-band R&B. One Direction, in that sense, is way more New Kids on the Block than Backstreet Boys — they’ve got the looks and the meet-cute pop songs, but they’re certainly not fleet of foot (and, thus, not exactly engaging in concert).
As if winking to the parents who will be enduring this record almost as often as their young daughters will wear it out, the first track, “Live While We’re Young,” opens with a riff practically plagiarized from the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The boys’ own nostalgia doesn’t reach back quite that far. In an attempt to actually rock, a song called “Rock Me” (full of the most brittle, digitally emaciated guitars you’ll ever hear), they ask, “Do you remember the summer of ’09?”
As with their smash hit “What Makes You Beautiful,” new single “Little Things” seems aimed directly at young girls struggling with self-image. “You’ve never loved your stomach or your thighs / the dimples in your back at the bottom of your spine,” sings 1D’s Liam Payne, followed by Harry Styles adding, “You still have to squeeze into your jeans / but you’re perfect to me.” This is either endearing or creepy. Either way, this time around the lads, each aged between 18 and 20, are definitely noticing women’s bodies and thinking it through. The living they declare to do while young includes a determination to “get some,” “Kiss You” is offered as a pump-priming option “if you don’t wanna take it slow,” and in “Last First Kiss” intentions are more direct: “I want to be the first to take it all the way.”
The individual members — Payne, Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan — are more easily discerned on this record than before, although no one really stands out more than another. 1D is still presented very much as a group, with no Justin Timberlake stepping to the fore quite yet. Their unity already has displayed its might, however. “Live While We’re Young” enjoyed the biggest first-week sales for any non-U.S. act in history. Bieber beware.