In the years following a pop band’s split, there is often a scuffle to establish who the breakout star will be. Rushed singles and slapdash albums are hurriedly manufactured and distributed, every record label acutely aware of the shelf-life of a former boy-bander. Only in the rarest cases can a member of a pop band go on to find enduring success alone.
Following One Direction’s disbandment, the four remaining members were slow to follow through with solo material. It seemed that, on all parts, there was a desire to let the dust settle before going it solo. As it stands, over two years after the announcement of a ‘hiatus’, only one member of the surviving four has released a full album – Harry Styles.
For his part, Niall has taken a rather laid back approach to new material. But this is no bad thing. What you feel from listening to Niall’s sporadic singles is that this is the music he wanted to make all along: fairly pedestrian guitar and piano ballads. And never has this been truer than on new track ‘Too Much To Ask’.
The opening three chords are strikingly reminiscent of Adele’s blockbuster ‘Hello’, the slow piano evoking the same dramatic atmosphere. But ‘Too Much To Ask’ quickly abandons any pretence of drama, instead opting for more comfortable territory with melodic lovesick couplets sung over a gentle piano and drums accompaniment. A rogue F-bomb threatens to shake things up a bit, but even Horan doesn’t sound overly convinced by his potty-mouth, too accustomed to being typecast as the nice guy among his more unruly bandmates.
‘Too Much To Ask’ has all the makings of a good song by fellow Irishmen The Script, or perhaps a hit by an earlier incarnation of Maroon 5, and Horan’s vocals – now sounding far more mature than during his 1D days – prove a fitting, albeit fairly humdrum, accompaniment to the soft piano. It’s a more traditional arrangement than the snaky rhythm of ‘Slow Hands’, sounding more like a One Direction ballad, though admittedly one that pales in comparison to the likes of ‘Story Of My Life’.
And this is the curse of any former boy-bander – their solo material will always be listened to in the context of their earlier hits. Horan is especially vulnerable to this given that his solo style is the most like One Direction’s. ‘Too Much To Ask’ is undeniably a pleasant listen, the chorus flowing beautifully and Horan sounding convincing as a solo star, but the verses lack much in the way of depth or punch. You get the feeling that a few high notes from Zayn or a husky verse from Harry might liven things up but, as it stands, it remains another fairly beige effort from One Direction’s good guy.