When One Direction were fused together on The X Factor in 2010, Niall Horan – all happy-to-be-there charm and third-place grin – got lost in the mix. Niall, notable mainly for wearing a brace, joined Liam (Payne) and Louis (Tomlinson) in the band’s second tier. As fame took hold, everyone else got ill-advised tattoos, while blemish-free Horan spent his downtime playing golf.
Thanks to a lack of expectation, however, his solo career has blossomed. Horan’s debut album, Flicker (2017), topped the charts in America, while its biggest single, Slow Hands, solidified his brand of comfy, PG-13, take-home-to-Mum pop-rock. It’s a winning formula he sticks to on follow-up Heartbreak Weather, with the galloping Black and White aiming for 1D-esque stadium singalongs, while the cherubic Dear Patience and epic ballad Still opt for warm acoustic guitars.
There are hints of experimentation, such as Nice to Meet Ya’s swaggering hybrid of Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian, but it’s the excellent title track’s flirtation with glossy, synth-tinged MOR that suggests where Horan might be headed next. Proof that it’s often the quiet ones you need to keep an eye on.