With One Direction now on permanent hiatus, Niall Horan is the first of the group’s remaining four members (Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, and Liam Payne) to strike out solo. And he’s doing so with a pleasant, though slightly tepid, guitar ballad titled “This Town.”
Over warm acoustic plucking, Horan, the only One Directioner who plays an instrument, unfurls a wistful tale of young love lost. While that doesn’t sound like new territory for the 23-year-old, the song shows growth thanks to its nuance in storytelling. Horan takes listeners to a surprisingly realized small town, where a pair of exes can’t escape each other. He remembers their childhood fairgrounds and their favorite pub. He’s burdened by all the things he never got to say—and it sounds believable.
Horan has said he’s mining the sound of some of his biggest influences: Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, both of whom he’s loved since childhood. But with Adele and Beck collaborator Greg Kurstin behind the boards, “This Town” skews more towards the modern, folk-influenced songwriting of Vance Joy and Ed Sheeran.