Take a bow: A review of Niall Horan’s ‘The Show’

The first 10 seconds of Niall Horan’s latest album, The Show, feel like the warmth of a celestial light. Layered with falsettos and crescendos that lead into a strong baseline strum, Horan played into his first track’s title, “Heaven,” with production that would prove to be a strong suit throughout the entire album. If anything, his successful start speaks to his 13-year-long history in the music industry: He knows what people like, and he performs it effortlessly. 

The Show is brief. 10 songs and 30 minutes long, it’s a mid-length car ride worth of pop, but it’s almost as if that is exactly the setting that Horan envisioned his third studio album to be enjoyed in. With a solo career full of radio hits like 2017’s “This Town” and “Slow Hands,” into 2020’s “Nice To Meet Ya” and “Put a Little Love on Me,” Horan seems to know the formula to the slow ballad, and, conversely, a solid guitar riff. Not to mention, his time spent with British boyband One Direction early on in his career, gave him a sense from a young age of what both the industry and the fans crave. 

So, Horan plays into what he knows best, evident on upbeat tracks like “Meltdown” and “If You Leave Me” where he utilizes his drum set and his ability to write a good bridge. Both songs, however, ultimately resemble his past works, leaving it up to the listener if this is a sign of a signature sound or unwanted repetition. 

Track five and the title song, “The Show,” is also a firm representation of Horan’s successful, slower pace songs that are full of lyrical meaning. In this track specifically, Horan speaks to the complexity of living in both spotlight and under scrutiny, singing, “If everything was simple, how would we know? / How to fix your tears, how to fake a show / How to paint a smile, yeah, how would we know? / How good we have it though?”  

Although, “Save My Life” truly steals The Show, with an exploration of different sounds that are new for Horan, but old for listeners, as 80s synth and the saxophone make their way into the melody. Though his lyrics are vague, it is clear that the seventh track was meant to show Horan’s willingness to transcend modern pop and pay homage to artists and music of the past. 

While experimenting with production might be a positive aspect of this album, listeners are left disappointed with what was meant to be the album’s most perceptive lyrics, lacking a certain level of insight beyond superficial meaning. For example, on “Science” he attempts to give heartfelt advice to those struggling with staying afloat. Though, when his post chorus sings, “It’s just science / Don’t let it break you down,” listeners are left with a piece of advice that was intended to be thoughtful, but is cliche instead. 

Horan is vague, and at his worst, cringeworthy, in “You Could Start a Cult.” As the title suggests, he expresses the unconditional love he has for his partner through the metaphor of her starting a cult and him following along, though his messaging is wavering and never fully lands. 

Altogether, take The Show for what it is: a feel-good pop album. Trying to make it anything else will result in dissatisfaction with Horan’s shallow attempts at vulnerability, as he rarely achieves both lyrical and sonic success combined in one track.