Grade: 3.0 / 5.0
Nearly seven years after the British boy band One Direction broke up, their members have all marched into their own attempts at solo careers, each with varying levels of success. Louis Tomlinson, who released his debut solo album Walls in 2020, has returned with another record, baring himself open but ultimately failing to prove his artistic range.
Faith in the Future certainly opens with grandeur. Originally written as a tour opener, “The Greatest” crests with a clashing, loudly soaring chorus; it certainly feels poised for a concert venue packed with fans. While the song is not irredeemable, it lacks brilliance, paving a path for the rest of the album’s monotony. Each song feels almost the same as the last, and as the album progresses, it begins to border on boring. While its energetic spirit is palpable, its failure to diversify itself from song to song leads it closer toward a lackluster blur.
The overall sound caters to Tomlinson’s path of pop-rock. Overwhelmingly British and electric-guitar infused, the record takes clear inspiration from bands such as Oasis and Arctic Monkeys. Grittier than his past work but still polished, Faith in the Future feels like an attempt at imitation rather than offering a sound that is uniquely Tomlinson’s.
“Out of My System” is especially Arctic Monkeys-esque, and its commitment to scrappiness lends it a marginally more interesting sound, making it stand out among the album’s drudge. Leaning into punk rock with fast-paced drums and a catchy electric guitar riff, its heated ardor calls back the headbanging happiness of early 2000s indie rock. This reminiscence is furthered by a stimulating bassline near the end of the song that breaks the chorus apart, anticipatory and indistinct.
It is unsurprising that longtime fans of Tomlinson love the album, which loyally follows One Direction’s discographic blueprint. However, despite his past success, the former One Direction singer now seems to find himself directionless.
Quintessential Britpop if it was boyband-born, Faith in the Future fails to push any boundaries. Though it has the potential to fully embody the grungy atmosphere Tomlinson is going for, anything even remotely alternative is eclipsed by his proclivity to revert to trite writing patterns. His songwriting is formulaic, precisely structured to contain all the necessary elements of a good pop-rock song. So, the album’s tendency to leave listeners uninspired begs the question: why isn’t it good?
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Faith in the Future, but there is nothing special about it either. Falling back on formulas to write songs may have worked well for Tomlinson in his boy band days, but as a solo artist this manufactured hollowness simply does not hold up. While his work is easy to listen to, it is also disappointingly banal, proof of his inability to escape predictability and repetition.
Perhaps the most interesting song on the album is the one that was left off of it: “Copy of a Copy of a Copy,” appearing only on the Target deluxe version of the album. This track has been a fan favorite ever since he debuted it in 2020 during a livestreamed performance. With its liquefying lyrics and electric guitar riff interpolating the Nine Inch Nails song “Copy of a,” the song would fit well on Faith in the Future, and not just because of the relevance of the titular refrain (‘Copy of a copy of a copy’ perfectly describes the album’s repetitive tracklist).
Faith in the Future does have moments of honesty and robustness. “Saturdays” begins as a soft, melancholic ballad before it builds, bass driving it slowly toward deliverance and reaching it with the drums’ explosion. “Some things change,” Tomlinson sings, crystal-bright and cathartic. The album’s theme of self growth works best in this song, probably because the leftover crumbs of boy band superficiality are working in overdrive, all elements of the song designed to produce nostalgia. Immediately after, “Silver Tongues” is similarly freeing. Piano melting into fast-paced drums, the song embodies the upbeat, exhilarating fondness of being in love.
Tomlinson reshapes tenderness in the album’s closing song, “That’s the Way Love Goes.” An acoustic guitar sizzling with intentional fret buzz is joined by soft backing vocals and piano chords that soothe. The song is lyrically simple but also a touching rumination on friendship, closing the album with poignance and candor.
Vulnerability has always been one of Tomlinson’s strong-suits, and it endures in Faith in the Future. The album may ruminate extensively on self growth, but as an artist, Tomlinson still has a lot of growth ahead of him.