On his long-awaited debut solo album, Walls (out now), Tomlinson, 28, does not stray too far from the boy band’s signature sound, although this time around, he fully embraces the Britpop genre with a dozen songs that echo Oasis.
The record kicks off with “Kill My Mind,” a fun and confident number that gives Tomlinson a free pass to rock out. It is not until “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart,” however, that he truly digs deep. The anthemic ballad is Tomlinson at his most vulnerable, as he croons, “‘Cause life gets hard and it gets messed up / When you give so much and it’s not enough.”
Similarly, the lead single, “Two of Us,” is a tearjerker through a through, as Tomlinson mourns his late mother, Johannah Deakin, and vows to live life to the fullest in her memory. “I know you’ll be looking down / Swear I’m gonna make you proud,” he tenderly sings.
Some moments on the album are rather forgettable though. “Walls” is bland for a title track, while “Always You” tries a little too hard to replicate 1D’s famously euphoric choruses. “Perfect Now” is the most skippable of the bunch, with cheesy lyrics such as, “I guess some queens don’t need a crown.”
Many songs on Walls yearn to be played to a crowd, which Tomlinson will do on his upcoming world tour. “We Made It,” for example, is a reflective midtempo that would have fit in just about any ‘90s rom-com set at a high school. It is one of the most solid songs on the album and could make for an excellent sing-along in concert, with its chanty chorus and Instagram-caption-worthy lyrics for the influencers out there. And on the closer, “Only the Brave,” Tomlinson shows versatility over a muted and folky instrumental that could light up an entire arena.
If the 1D guys ever reunite — which is seeming more and more unlikely, largely due to Liam Payne’s recent comments distancing himself from some of his former bandmates — it is easy to imagine Tomlinson standing out from the pack during his inevitable solo portion of their concert. Of the five original members, he may not have the strongest vocals (that title goes to Harry Styles) but he is arguably the strongest songwriter, as evidenced on Walls. The project is a power play on the heels of Zayn Malik’s lackluster Icarus Falls and Payne’s critically panned LP1. And for that, Tomlinson should be celebrated because he already has some real gems in his catalog.
3 stars (out of 4)
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