Following the announcement of an extended hiatus for international boy band sensation One Direction in 2015, eyes were understandably on all of its members to see where their solo projects would take them. Some, like the first-to-depart Zayn Malik, rushed albums out the door–for better or worse–while others, like Harry Styles, took some time to find their new sound before releasing a full-length LP. With the release of Walls this past January, Louis Tomlinson was the last former One Direction member to release a solo album.
Tomlinson originally kicked off his solo efforts on the festival-friendly electro-pop side of the industry, teaming up with DJ Steve Aoki for “Just Hold On” and pop artist Bebe Rexha for “Back to You.” After a few tumultuous years that included the birth of his son, Freddie, and the loss of both his mother and younger sister Félicité, Tomlinson put his career on pause to figure out what he wanted his solo work to look like. He dedicated himself to creating a more honest, emotional album for his first full-length release, drawing influence from groups like Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys. With Walls, Tomlinson has created a snapshot of his post-One Direction days, revisiting the loss of his mother, his relationship with longtime girlfriend Eleanor Calder, the path to fame, and mistakes he’s made along the way. .
The album kicks off with second single “Kill My Mind,” a high-energy, guitar-infused pop track about partying and experimenting in your youth. “You’re a nightmare on the dancefloor/And you hate me, and I want more,” Tomlinson confidently sings, flirting with listeners and establishing his pop cred. “It was a bit of a statement of intent,” Tomlinson explained to Apple Music. “‘This is where I want to be, this is the space I want to move into,’ but I’m aware that’s a transition as well. I wasn’t going to put ten ‘Kill My Minds’ on the album because I don’t think it would have been right.” While “Kill My Mind” is a misdirect when it comes to the rest of the album, it serves as a promise of things to come–and a promise that Tomlinson can hold his own with a solo tour.
Much of Walls tells the story of Tomlinson’s relationship with longtime girlfriend Eleanor Calder, with whom he reunited after his mother’s death. With its soft guitars and harmonic chorus, fourth single “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” could easily be found in One Direction’s discography. The nostalgic “We Made It” simultaneously serves as an ode to his early days dreaming of fame with Calder and a thank you to fans for their support and patience. The light Jason Mraz-esque ballad “Too Young” explores his own immaturity during their breakup, while title track “Walls” explores the impact of that breakup, with Tomlinson both opening and closing on the line “Nothing wakes you up like waking up alone.” The lighter, pluckier “Always You” follows Tomlinson through his memories traveling the world and realizing that he needed to get back together.
The lead single from the album, “Two of Us,” is a down-to-Earth ballad about Tomlinson’s late mother, Johannah Deakin, and how her death affected him. “It’s been a minute since I called you/Just to hear the answerphone/Yeah I know that you won’t get this/But I’ll leave a message so I’m not alone” Tomlinson sings, simply but powerfully exploring his grief. According to his interview with BBC Radio 1, Tomlinson waited a few years to write it, giving himself more time to grieve and more songwriting experience to do it justice.
The album isn’t without its drawbacks; “Fearless” takes a detour from Tomlinson’s more personal narratives to offer cliched advice about living life to the fullest. The “Hey There Delilah”-esque “Perfect Now,” intended to be a follow up to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Little Things,” promises that the girl in question is perfect despite her imperfections. Unfortunately, just as with “Little Things,” the message comes across as a bit condescending rather than sweet. However, Tomlinson ends on a strong note, jumping back to the indie-inspired “Only the Brave,” a short track clearly inspired by Oasis that ties up the album nicely.
On the whole, Walls takes you on an emotional journey through the last several years of Louis Tomlinson’s life–his experiences in and out of One Direction, the ups and downs of his relationship with Eleanor Calder, and the devastating losses of his mother and sister. Tomlinson’s debut shows a lot of promise when he lets his emotions take over, creating quieter tracks like “Two of Us” and “Too Young.” Unfortunately, the connection to the listener breaks when the songs take a less personal, more prescriptive note, with more generic, Directioner-aimed tracks like “Habit” and “Perfect Now.” Even with the misses on the album, it’s refreshing to see an artist like Louis Tomlinson taking the time to get his bearings and release the album he truly wants to release, especially in our world of instant gratification and extremely (and in some cases, damagingly so) high pop turnover.