When Simon Cowell issues a challenge, the pop world tends to accept it. That's what happened with One Direction on album number two, arriving in the U.S. eight months after its predecessor. Following the massive success of "Up All Night" and the single "What Makes You Beautiful," the "X Factor" judge and band advisor challenged pop's most dominant songwriters and producers to bring their A-game to One Direction's follow-up. A glance at the album's liner notes shows some familiar faces and some new ones, but most importantly, at least half of "Take Me Home's" songs sound like potential singles, ranging from glossy electro-pop to sentimental acoustic ballads. Even with so many producers lending a hand, there isn't a dud to be found on the record's thirteen tracks. At worst, some of the lesser cuts sound like photocopies of their stronger counterparts, which is certainly a forgivable offense for the boys of One Direction.
All five 1D members -- Zayn Malik, 19; Harry Styles, 18; Louis Tomlinson, 20; Niall Horan, 19; and Liam Payne,19 -- are still under the legal drinking age in the U.S, but lyrically, the boys have grown up a tad. The five members sound very much like a unit, with no single personality in the band dominating the others. That's just fine for now, though it should be interesting to watch this dynamic play out over the course of the band's career. Is there a Justin Timberlake in the mix? Stay tuned.
Rest assured, "Take Me Home" is a record destined for commercial success. Since the release of "Up All Night" last March, One Direction has picked up big-time momentum and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Next year's world tour was a quick sellout and new single "Live While We're Young" has already broken the Hot 100 record for the highest debut of a song by a U.K. group. On their new album, they're not out to reinvent the boy band model, but rather perfect it for a 2012 audience that lapped up their debut.
Join Billboard as we take a track-by-track look at "Take Me Home."
1. Live While We're Young
"Take Me Home's" lead single was co-produced by Carl Falk, the Swedish maestro behind "What Makes You Beautiful," and sounds just close enough to its predecessor to carry on the success without biting its style. And guess what! It's already one-upped "Beautiful's" peak chart position on the Hot 100 (No. 3 to No. 4).
2. Kiss You - "Kiss You" is the album's catchiest song, and one that's just begging to be a future single. Lyrically, the boys start to toe the line between PG and PG-13 territory ("If you don't wanna take it slow, and you just wanna take me home, say yeah and let me kiss you!"), though parents ought to be too caught up in the massive hook to take notice.
3. Little Things
It was a bold move going with an all-acoustic ballad for single number two, though this one's swoon-worthy -- if "Little Things" doesn't make the rounds at next spring's middle school dances, color us surprised. Behind the scenes, singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan might have landed herself a big break, via one of her first major songwriting credits.
4. C'mon C'mon - Speaking of school dances, this one paints another familiar scene: the boy's date has left and he's feeling lonely, but spots another girl in just the same predicament. Clocking in at less than three minutes, this one wastes little time in getting to the hook.
5. Last First Kiss - Things get a bit more serious here with a little bit of young love in the air. To add to the sincerity, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, and Liam Payne all contributed to the songwriting. Though perhaps not single-material, "Last First Kiss" is a solid curveball.
6. Heart Attack - Shellback is back on board for "Heart Attack," a pop-rock song that could pass for Boys Like Girls or the All-American Rejects just as easily as a boy band bit. Though not one of the album's standouts, the track has a steady flow from verse to pre-chorus to chorus, and helps pick up the momentum after "Last First Kiss."
7. Rock Me - One Direction aren't a rock band, though they put on the act here, with a chorus that goes "I want you to rock me, yeah, I want you to hit the pedal, heavy metal, show me you care." The vibe is cheesy -- though musically, it's a welcome deviation from the bubblegum pop that rules the first half of the album.
8. Change My Mind - A more mature feel hangs over "Change Mind," as if it was something that could work for a singer-songwriter on a more adult-alternative record. At one time or another, boy bands need to prove they can make these tracks work, and though it's not in 1D's current wheelhouse, they hold their own on this mid-tempo heartstring-puller.
9. I Would - "I Would" might be tucked away in the back half of the album, but it's one of "Take Me Home's" best surprises. Written by Danny Jones of McFly, "I Would" it isn't afraid to get cute, telling a tale about yearning for a girl who has a tough-guy boyfriend with "27 tattoos." Musically, the uptempo number is a winner as well; when the 1D boys harmonize on the song's title line, there is some actual catharsis present!
10. Over Again - If new single "Little Things" struck a chord, check out this teary-eyed cut. "Over Again" is not entirely acoustic, though it's got lines like "her hands fit like my t-shirt." The percussion and extra instrumentation arrive at just the right time, making "Over Again" yet another winner.
11. Back For You - On "Back For You," we're back to slick, up-tempo pop-rock. With well-placed "Come on's" and innocuous lines like "I've never been so into somebody before," this one's got plenty of youthful exuberance, but doesn't quite distance itself from the similar fare on the record.
12. They Don't Know About Us - Ah, two young lovers that everyone else doesn't want to be together. The subject matter's a little predictable with a song title like this, but nevertheless, the modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga makes for one of the album's best songs. A twinkling piano intro soon bursts into a full-on chorus that's heavy in replay potential.
13. Summer Love - On the album's closer, some of the 1D boys once again contribute writing to go along with their performance credits. "You were mine for the summer, now we know it's nearly over," goes the chorus in a bittersweet ending that still boasts plenty of pretty harmonizing.