Niall Horan Levels Up With Second Album, ‘Heartbreak Weather’

Niall Horan | Heartbreak Weather | Capitol Records

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3.5 out of 5

It is rarely easy to break the shackles of the boy-band label. The stigma, warranted or not, suffocates and pollutes any future creative pursuits. Niall Horan manages to further distance himself from his One Direction days with his second solo effort. At a tall 14 songs, Heartbreak Weather is a stylistic leveling-up that swings for flashier theatrics, moodier ruminations, and a silkier vocal coating.

Horan guns right for the eye of heartbreak’s storm and submerges himself in whipping winds, cracks of thunder, and sharp lightning strikes. He feels the sting quite viscerally, yet instead of writhing around in his misery, he fashions his acoustic guitar in new smoldering settings or opts to dance it out into the wee hours of the morning. “When you go through a breakup, it’s not sad all the time,” he remarks.

2017’s Flicker fermented a folkier, more organic sensibility, and despite Heartbreak Weather’s soaring ambition, he roots himself to lyrics that sprout from similar emotional earth. “Black and White” flips through could-have-beens with a thumping intensity, as he gazes 40 years into the future to envision a life-long partnership ─ staging the inevitable crash that comes later with brute force.

Horan’s voice burns through the atmosphere, pouncing between R&B-smoked escapades (“Small Talk,” “Bend the Rules”) and sweeping balladry (“Dear Patience,” “Arms of a Stranger”). He assembles his storyline with a clear focus, and even in its junkier moments (“Cross Your Mind,” “No Judgement”), there is order to the unraveling. With producer Julian Bunetta, Horan wades chest-deep into the flood, and every turn emits an undeniable rush of allowing oneself to feel so deeply and unapologetically.

Heartbreak Weather comes to a heart-crushing halt with “Still,” a string-wrapped closer that flexes the full extent of his craft. “I guess we lost our focus / And it’s killing me that we could go to war like this,” he wipes away the tears. “But I’m standing here with you just tryna be honest / If honesty means telling you the truth / Well I’m still in love with you.” It is within such a vulnerable, honest place that Horan proves he belongs here.

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