HORAN’S ‘HEARTBREAK WEATHER’ IS HISTORY MAKER
Already one of the biggest stars in the music world, HEARTBREAK WEATHER the sophomore collection from NIALL HORAN, is set to seal the Mullingar man’s place in pop history. Even though he has emerged from his One Direction days as a songwriter and performer of serious note, were he to never release another album after this one, I don’t think it would matter now. Heartbreak Weather has everything it takes to be considered a career-defining opus.
But it’s evident from watching him perform or hearing him talk, that Horan is only beginning to hit his stride. Not only is there more to come, there’s so, so, so much more to come. And based on what we’ve already been offered on Flicker – his first solo outing – and now on Heartbreak Weather, his canon of genuinely magnificent pop songs are sourced from a mine of considerable depth.
The one time boy-bander has blossomed into a master craftsman of pop par excellence.
Now, before going any further, I should really come clean about my relationship with Niall (so to speak!) Because there are people out there reading this who have known me for a long time, and opening paragraphs like those above is something that – once a upon a time – they would have imagined me only writing with a gun to my head. And even then, with a grimace and while wondering if there was really a bullet in the chamber! BUT, those times have changed. And how!
So here’s my confession… I haven’t always been Niall Horan’s biggest fan. In fact, for quite a while – if I’m being really honest – I wasn’t a fan at all! Not. Even. Close. Truth be told, for the longest time I found it incredibly hard to take to Niall in any way. And I don’t say that lightly. It actually bothered me. You see, there was every reason in the world, or so it seemed, for me to be on his side. After all, not only was he an Irishman in probably the biggest boy-band and pop act of their day in the world, he was a midlands man, too. ‘One of our own’, in the best sense of that oft’ mangled with nefarious intent phrase. And yet…and yet…
Even looking back on it now, I’ve struggled to arrive at any conclusions as to why I just couldn’t feel any connection with him. Because there was no real reason to not be a fan. But the thing is, I wasn’t even just ‘not a fan.’ I fell firmly into the can’t-stand-the-guy category! And to be fair, that was pretty unfair. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the real Niall, the person we’ve all had a chance to see more of and get to know better since his solo career was launched with the equally sublime collection that was Flicker, was so well hidden during his time with One Direction. Something that was an unintended consequence of life in a boy-band, rather than by any ill-judged design.
Right from the get-go, One Direction had what, for a long time, was an unending supply of some of the catchiest songs on the planet. Whether you liked the band or not, it was almost impossible not to like the songs. And that, again whether you like it or not, is a sign of success, and mission accomplished if you can make it happen from a label and management point of view. But what it also did, in my opinion, was make the band mere vehicles for the songs. So what we saw of Harry, Liam, Louis, Zayn, and of course, Niall, was always just surface level stuff. Always happy. Always smiling. Always excitable. A lot of things that you can quickly grow tired of unless, that is, you were a teenage girl who was falling in love with the boys as much as the music! And to be clear, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of that. It’s life, and it’s the music business.
But then…This Town came along.
There’s nothing about this track that isn’t beautiful. It was then, when it was released in 2016, and still is today, almost halfway through 2020. And that’s something that will still be a stone-cold fact in ten, twenty, fifty years time. Because a class song is a class song. And This Town is just that. It’s not always easy to leave – be it for good or while just on ‘a break’ – a hugely successful band and climb your way into the higher echelons of the charts as an individual. So it was by no means a given that it would happen. But the real game-changing fact about This Town was that Niall was also one of the songwriters. This was the first big clue that there was so much more to him than his time in One Direction had ever really revealed. While the happy, smiling, excitable elements of his personality were all still there, now they added to your impression of who Niall was as an artist and a person.
My conversion, unexpectedly, but in earnest, had begun!
There isn’t always one specific moment when you can actually feel yourself become a fan of someone. But with Niall Horan, I can trace it back to THE exact moment when that happened for me. On May 22nd 2017, an Islamic terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s concert in the Manchester Arena claimed twenty-two innocent lives, with a further one-hundred-and thirty-nine being seriously injured. About two weeks later, Ariana Grande and a host of world superstars came together for the One Love Manchester concert at the Old Trafford cricket ground. Among those taking part was Niall Horan. It was an incredibly moving and emotional day, and I remember watching it at home with my tears in my eyes on several occasions. One of those moments, and it was accompanied by a feeling of real pride as well, was when Niall performed This Town.
There are some things you just can’t fake. One of them is performing with just your voice and a guitar. And on June 4th 2017, there he was, on-stage, on such a monumentally historic moment, the air charged with emotion, singing This Town by himself while accompanying himself on guitar. Although written about his home-town of Mullingar, on that day he made it Manchester’s song. One guy, his voice, his guitar, his own song (co-writers Jamie Scott, Mike Needle, and Daniel Bryer, credit where it’s due), thousands of people in front of him, and millions watching all around the world. Anybody who can do that earns my respect and admiration. And what brought the intensity of it all into even sharper focus, was the fact that Niall and Ariana were friends. And whether you’re two of the biggest stars on the planet or just two regular people, friendship is friendship. And the toughest times reveal peoples’ truest nature. When the call came from his friend asking for his help with that concert, his reply, I seem to remember hearing at the time, was something along the lines of, “Whatever you need.” That, too, earns my respect and admiration.
And from that day to this, I’ve been a fan of Niall Horan.
I even went out and bought Flicker! Not just the studio album, but the majestic collaboration with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra as well (but I have yet to discover the reason for Slow Hands not featuring on that particular album?!).
When it was first revealed that Heartbreak Weather was on the way, I pre-ordered it with TRAX as sound as I could, and the deluxe edition at that! From not being able to stand the guy a few years ago, I’ve reached the stage where a full new album is not enough, I need the bonus tracks as well! My excitement about the album was sparked by lead-off single Nice To Meet Ya, an all-out cracker of a song that Niall has also had a hand in writing (co-writers Julian Bunetta, Tobias Jesso, and Ruth-Anne Cunningham).
If Nice To Meet Ya got to you the way it did me, and you were wondering if the album itself could be as strong, then have no doubt about it. It is. From the brilliant blast-off of the title track all the way through to the closer, Still (or Nothing if you go for the deluxe edition, which you most definitely should if you can), Heartbreak Weather is a history maker for Horan. Standouts for me are the epic album opener, Nice To Meet Ya, new single Black And White, Bend The Rules, Small Talk, Nothing…but I could just list the entire album, to be honest.
Heartbreak Weather is history in the making, and seals its creators place in popular music history at the same time. This is Niall Horan as superstar, rock-star, and most importantly of all, an artist of undeniable substance.