Friday, December 8, 2023
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Niall Horan – The Show Review

Hungover minds are not for scheduling. What this means is, settling into what should have been Tom Grennan’s latest pop piece is impossible. It is not out, at time of writing, until Friday. Still, swapping out the Sheffield-born singer whose features so far include the abysmal, LadBaby-level Artists for Grenfell and two lukewarm albums for a former One Direction star who dropped a half-hour album which had all the reception of sneezing at a funeral, is no small problem. The Show, then, from one-fifth of One Directioner Niall Horan, is perfectly acceptable soft pop which will be defended by those who still have a picture of Horan from a decade ago wearing an out-of-fashion t-shirt as their profile picture. Life passes you by when in the trenches of fandom.  

So for those deep in those muddied wars, maybe The Show will pass you by. Hopefully. Opener Heaven presents the expected, slightly muffled opening seconds before bleeding into the obvious love tones settled by Horan and his work so far. It all feels so disengaged. Vague yet attempting some hope at spirit. He still has a fine voice for what he offers up, twee little numbers which hope to lift the spirit. Some heavy lifting is thoroughly needed there then, the lacklustre backing harmonies bringing about this distant Beach Boys feel. But to have The Beach Boys in Niall Horan in the same sentence is enough to cause heart attacks and confusion. So too does The Show, a limited album which neither inspires nor offends. Middle-of-the-road mundanity is worse than actively attempting to drum fear into the ears and minds of listeners. 

Instead of If You Leave Me giving Horan the chance to hit the high notes with the title track, he instead finds himself putting on a Michael Jackson “hee hee” pitch. Not the best of The Show, but Horan never finds a spot to show himself off as the best in class. Pop has dropped off. Horan does not lead the charge but weasels his way into the background with instrumentals and heavy electrics on Meltdown which would feel dated on a debut piece from Two Door Cinema Club. It has the feeling of sundown summer moments and never clicks to something unique to Horan. No potential is met. Nothing says Meltdown like a track of slick production and firm hands controlling the mood for light pop appealing to one set audience. The latter deserves better, the former needs to be better.  

Pop efforts get weaker, yet Horan has, in sporadic moments of post-One Direction spirit, shown signs of strength. He leans into the lighter psychedelics of Never Grow Up nicely but his lyrical simplicities, the achingly dull will-they, wont-they of post-breakup letdowns is as grating as it is unmoving. Uninspired collections of generalised thought to peddle toward those who are taken by the person, not the production. You Could Start a Cult is a nice little nod to the diehard fans who will praise and pray for Horan’s final word on every matter. Fan culture is an abomination, The Show fuels that fire while also extinguishing the possibility of expanding his creative horizons, despite his clear vocal solidity. At least Save My Life has some saxophone in there, marking it as the best of the album by default.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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