An anxious Niall Horan appears on the cover of his sophomore solo album. He’s standing on a chair in the middle of a street with a nasty-looking thunderstorm brewing behind him. It’s a fittingly awkward image for what turns out is an awkward album.
“Heartbreak Weather” is an overall bright collection from the former One Directioner, but one that doesn’t top his 2017 debut, the nifty “Flicker.” If he was more folky on the last one, here he’s veered back into pop, making 14 perfectly fine tracks, if not volcanic ones.
The half dozen best songs — like the Ed Sheeran-like “No Judgement,” the ‘80s-ish title track and the addictive “New Angel” — are diluted by too many that make little impression, especially the softer, quieter songs “Black and White,” “Dear Patience,” “Put a Little Love On Me,” “Still” and “San Francisco.”
The sultry, rocking “Nice to Meet Ya” was a dynamite first single, but its cocky Brit-pop sound isn’t followed through for the rest of “Heartbreak Weather.” Horan’s music doesn’t always reach out and grab you by the throat, so a few listens are often required to release their understated beauty. But more spins don’t always help this time.
Horan has once again written on every track and tapped some top producers — including Greg Kurstin, Teddy Geiger, Julian Bunetta and Scott Harris — for an album in which every song is about a lover or a former one. Horan really only has two speeds on “Heartbreak Weather” — frisky or brokenhearted. “Let’s skip all the small talk and go straight up to your room,” he sings in one song. On another he’s down and haunted: “I try to run, but you’re everywhere I go.”
“Heartbreak Weather” is in no way a disaster like the one approaching Horan on the album cover. It’s just not an improvement on his debut effort. Not to worry, the storm will pass. Also, pro tip: Avoid wearing white pants in a squall.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits