On his own, Louis Tomlinson was not supposed to be successful.
The opening sentence in a recent Rolling Stone interview with Louis says, “When One Direction went on hiatus in 2015, everybody figured Louis Tomlinson was poised for instant pop success as a solo star. After all, he co-wrote so many of the group’s most beloved tunes.” Just like the NME claiming that Louis “was always the quiet one in the band,” this is fundamentally false.
I’m not sure what British/Irish five-piece that came in third on the X Factor in 2010 these journalists have been watching, but it couldn’t have been One Direction. While Louis did write many of the group’s beloved tunes (he has songwriting credits on over 30 songs across their six albums and EPs), he was not always the quiet one — and he was certainly not poised for instant pop success.
Five years ago, when One Direction had four debut No. 1 albums and one of the highest-grossing tours in history under their belt, the band split. They called it a hiatus and gave every writer under the Sun the opportunity to use the incredibly high-brow “went in different directions” pun. Seriously, they’re still putting that on magazine covers in 2020. But the only member who was told he’d ever become anything on his own was Harry Styles.
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Harry, they said, would be the Justin Timberlake of One Direction. He had the voice, the look, the persona. The other four members would fade into oblivion with the likes of pretty much any other band that “went in different directions.” To come out now and claim that Louis (or Niall Horan or Liam Payne or even Zayn Malik) was always believed to become an instant solo success undermines how hard he’s had to work just to get to this point.
As a testament to that hard work, it’s taken four years for Walls to come out. Harry has already dropped his second solo album with a second world tour launching in April. Niall is at a similar level, having blown the world away with the commercial success of “Slow Hands” in 2017. Zayn — who, admittedly, had a little extra time — has released Mind of Mine and Icarus Falls and continues to feature on other artists’ tracks.
Liam, too, waited nearly four years and released his LP last month. The group overtook the Beatles to have the most members get No. 1 albums as solo artists. But the only one who lived up to predictions is Harry. The rest have succeeded as underdogs.
Louis is the final member to release a full-length album, and it was worth the wait.
There was risk in waiting this long, asking fans to be patient for nearly half a decade, but Walls is so brilliantly, deeply Louis that it feels like it ties his efforts over the last four years together. The first four tracks (“Kill My Mind,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart,” “Two of Us,” and “We Made It”) aren’t new; they’ve been released as singles since March 2019. But when listening to the full album front-to-back, they feel new in the way they effortlessly flow and support each other.
1. Kill My Mind
2. Don’t Let It Break Your Heart
3. Two of Us
4. We Made It
5. Too Young
8. Always You
10. Perfect Now
12. Only the Brave
The title track came out two weeks ago, leaving just six of the 12 tracks unheard. Along with the half-dozen we already knew, “Too Young,” “Habit,” “Fearless,” “Perfect Now,” “Defenceless,” and “Only the Brave” complement each other to create an undeniable and Oasis-tinged cohesion of guitars, drums, and British accents.
Knowing this album is fully Louis helps make it clear where his musical influence came in on One Direction songs, though now we get to hear them entirely in his vocal stylings rather than just one-fifth or one-fourth. The lyrics are nostalgic, wistful, a bit sickly-sweet at times but full of love and adoration. When you came of age during your time in the biggest boy-band in the world (and “come so far since Princess Park”), how can you write about anything else?
“Too Young” is one of the stand-out tracks, which sees Louis looking back on the early days in a relationship where they didn’t realize what they had until it was gone. “Perfect Now” is the grownup equivalent to One Direction’s “Little Things,” with romantic interests that still can’t quite find jeans that fit. The album ends with the crackling, guitar-strumming “Only the Brave,” which manages to wrap things up in less than two minutes of wicked wordplay and religious innuendos.
These are stadium anthems about to be played in club-sized venues for the hungriest of fans. They speak to the pain of losing both his mother and sister, his growth as a reluctant celebrity, the highs of lows of success, and what it feels like to fall in and out of love with the same person.
While Louis’s sheer popularity and demand will see this album land high on the charts, it’s doubtful that any of these songs will hear big airplay in the States, too British and instrumental to compete for radio time against more traditional electronic pop beats. But they will please Louis’s millions of fans who have been holding their breath for four years waiting for this album to finally make its way into the world.
And they will please Louis, I hope, who decided to stop writing purely for commercial success and start writing only for himself.
Louis will take Walls on his 2020 world tour starting in March.