Up and down the country, if not across the world, mums have been heard to whisper it: “Niall was always my favourite”. Perhaps due to Horan’s status as the only One Direction member without tattoos, it also points to the undeniable: Horan is a likeable guy. That personality went a fair way in carrying his first two albums – both solid, if middle-of-the-road pop projects. Still, 2017’s Flicker took Horan to the top of the US and Irish charts, while 2020’s Heartbreak Weather delivered his first UK chart-topper. Like a lot of artists, Horan’s sophomore record did fall foul of, well, 2020; the cancelled Heartbreak Weather tour meant a long three years before we heard much more from the beloved Irishman.
We were first introduced to The Show by its two singles: “Heaven” brought tumbling harmonies and a chorus primed for sing-alongs; “Meltdown” offered a helping hand through mental health struggles backed by an anxious tempo. Listening to the album in full reveals these as the standout tracks by a healthy margin; the rest of The Show is often hampered by its predictability. “Must Be Love”, for instance, joins “If You Leave Me” and “Save My Life” on the ‘fun but quite forgettable’ pile – perfectly serviceable, but far from hitting you in the chest. Indeed, the former command’s attention only for some clunky lyrics: as well as “a first degree in being [his] worst enemy”, it turns out Horan has “a PhD in always running away” (make jokes about Rishi Sunak and university funding as you wish). Horan captures a similarly bizarre energy on “You Could Start a Cult”: unexpected praise that sounds like it came from an archived Hinge chat rather than a love song. If you can look past his left-of-field chat-up lines, Horan’s acoustic guitar and lilting voice do make for a sweet lullaby – though the speed at which he then hurtles back to the dancefloor for “Save My Life” risks a mild case of whiplash.
There are still highlights beyond the two singles. Among them is “Never Grow Up”, a sleepy ballad echoing all the youth-chasing sentiment of “Act My Age” (that feel-good sea shanty from 1D’s Four), but repackaged with a swaying chorus steeped in nostalgic imagery. It’s followed by the record’s titular track, which grows from moody beginnings to a soaring final chorus – an undeniable triumph of a blueprint Horan song. While no wheels have been reinvented, The Show is far from a bad record. If you’ve spent any time trying to imagine what a new Niall album would sound like, you’re probably pretty close.