Louis Tomlinson has always felt like the scrappiest member of One Direction. While his former co-workers found specific lanes, he juggled genres, trying everything from EDM to guitar-led Oasis cosplay. His first solo album, Walls, lacked identity as a result: falling back on maudlin balladry and lager-swilling lad rock, it was forgettable and aimless.
Faith in the Future attempts to address this. Firmly rooted in early 00s indie and festival rock, it’s more sonically assured. Tomlinson himself, however, is now lost in a sea of influences. On Bigger Than Me, a Snow Patrol-like singalong, a rumbling storm of drums threatens to overpower Tomlinson’s thin vocals, while on Face the Music, propulsive and crunching guitars provide more fuel than his affected attempt at a Gallagher snarl. Meanwhile, Out of My System pulls so heavily from early Arctic Monkeys that it begins to feel like pastiche.
Faith in the Future is more successful when it moves away from full-on mimicry. All This Time echoes the Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition, but is elevated by aquatic William Orbit-esque production and a sincere, understated vocal performance. Headline (available on the digital and deluxe editions) sees the breezy nostalgia of the Kooks merge with Tomlinson’s strong pop songwriting, delivering an impeccable chorus. And while the lyrics of She Is Beauty We Are World Class are terrible (“Are we me or are we you?” Tomlinson ponders), the apocalyptic rave synths and woozy reverb-heavy guitars at least gesture towards experimentation. It’s not enough, though: he may have landed on a sound, but as an artist Tomlinson is still directionless.