Niall Horan - Flicker (Capitol Records)
From one direction to five, it's been fascinating to listen to what the members of One Direction have been doing on their hiatus. And hold your nose if you must but some of it is really good — including Niall Horan's latest effort.
While Harry Styles dabbles in '70 rock, Louis Tomlinson gets into hard-core EDM, Liam Payne embraces in-the-club-R&B and Zayn Malik explores neo-soul, Flicker finds Horan on the folkier side of pop.
Horan's solo CD isn't look-at-me flashy, but his songs are built sturdily and his warm voice is unrushed and unpretentious. "I've got a young heart and it's wild and free," he sings in one song.
Horan seems uninterested in the pyrotechnics of his 1D bandmates, preferring a John Mayer and Ed Sheeran guitar-driven sound. It's a mature effort from an Irish former boy band boy, who had a hand in writing every song and plays guitar on several.
The 10-track CD opens with the infectious, dance-friendly On the Loose, but that's not representative of the album. It's like Horan just wants to show he can put out pure shimmering pop like anyone else — and then move on.
You won't be able to resist Slow Hands, a pure hit of foot-stomping breezy pop-folk, or the duet Seeing Blind, where he and country star Maren Morris meld their voices beautifully.
But much of Flicker is airy, dreamy and delicate as it explores love with subtle guitar work, like the achingly beautiful Paper Houses, the gorgeous, slightly twangy You and Me and the excellent Fleetwood Mac-ish Since We're Alone. The title song is a triumph of sparseness.
Horan has tapped some top producers — including Greg Kurstin, Julian Bunetta and Jacquire King — and they've decided to showcase him, unfussy and without any tricks. The album is a lot like its cover — a portrait of an artist looking straight and honestly into the camera.