Niall Horan’s New Standout Album 

by Mary Catherine Craig on May 30, 2023

Arts & Entertainment

While PC students are sad about leaving campus and their friends as summer approaches, another summer means the return of some of life’s greatest pleasures. Sunshine, seeing friends and family at home, free time, and best of all: new music. Summer is arguably the best time to listen to music, with warm weather and the windows down. One of this year’s most anticipated albums is set to release right at the start of summer; that is, The Show by Niall Horan.

Niall Horan is a 29-year-old Irish singer-songwriter who came from humble beginnings. His professional career began when he competed on The X-Factor at age 16. Horan was one of the lucky five contestants who were chosen to form a group with each other. He, along with Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik came together and created One Direction. While the band came in third in the UK singing competition, they signed a record contract under judge Simon Cowell shortly after the show’s finale. Less than a year later, the group released their debut single, the ever-recognizable “What Makes You Beautiful.” The song was a major success and the band immediately rose to fame. When the album was released internationally, the boys became the first band from the UK to have their debut album hit number one in the United States. Horan participated in four more albums with One Direction before the band’s official breakup in early 2016.

In September 2016, Horan began his solo career when he released his debut single, “This Town” under Capitol Records. The second single (“Slow Hands”) came in May of the following year. Both singles were a success, breaking the top ten on Billboard charts. The full album was released in October 2017 and landed a number one spot. Horan’s second studio album, Heartbreak Weather, came in 2020, but the tour was canceled due to the pandemic. Despite the cancellation, Heartbreak Weather still made it to number one on the UK charts and number four in the U.S.

Now, after an almost three-year hiatus, Horan is back with more music. The singer-songwriter took to Instagram for the announcement of his third studio album, The Show, set to release on June 9. The album will include 10 tracks, the names of which have been released on his Instagram. The album’s first single, “Heaven,” was released shortly after the album announcement, and became Horan’s seventh song to make it to the Billboard Hot 100. Just last week the second single off the album was released, titled “Meltdown.” In a podcast called “Every Single Album,” Horan explained how the new song is deep in meaning, but is set to a very high tempo to mimic the fast-paced heartbeat one might feel during times of anxiety. Regarding the rest of the album, Horan created an album trailer, released on various social media platforms, where he spoke about the creation of the album and his relationship with the music and his fans. The video opens with a thank you to his listeners for being patient with him, as he has spent the last 18 months working on this new record. He admits to nerves, saying that it is scary to be away for so long, and he hopes the fans still like what he has to share. Horan also opened up about how incredibly special the record is to him, explaining how the music is a reflection of where he is in his life at the present moment. He encourages his fans to make the music their own, saying, “these songs are for you as much as they are for me.” Horan closed the trailer with another thank you to his fans and welcomed them to the new era of The Show.

Album Review: Ed Sheeran’s “=”

by The Cowl Editor on November 18, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Album Review: Ed Sheeran’s “=” 

The British Superstar is Back and “Ed”-er Than Ever

Grace Whitman ’22

Ed Sheeran’s album “=” was released on Oct. 29 and showcases a new chapter in the British singer’s life. Sheeran has always been a poetic storyteller, and this album clearly shows how he has matured as a person. 

Amid COVID-19, his wife Cherry Seaborn gave birth to their daughter Lyra and the new father stepped away from music and the spotlight for over a year. He also went dark on social media. While the emotional growth he experienced during this time is certainly evident on “=,” his musical growth is not as clear. Indeed, the record’s tracks consistently have a predictable sound.

“=” is Sheeran’s fourth album with a mathematical symbol as a title, following “+,” “x,” and “÷”. With themes of marriage and parenthood consistent throughout, one may interpret the title “=” to be a nod to how Sheeran feels content and at peace with the place he is at in his life. 

The album starts with a reflective song, “Tides,” on which Sheeran shares how his perspective on life has changed. He sings, “I have grown up, I am a father now/Everything has changed but I am still the same somehow.” With the use of tides as a metaphor for the changes that have occurred in his life, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album and would be the perfect song to open up a stadium concert. 

The singles from the album are “Bad Habits,” “Shivers,” and “Visiting Hours.” “Bad Habits” is one of the most popular songs on the radio right now, but its sound is extremely predictable and seems to have been meticulously crafted to be a radio song. Notably, with regard to both the lyrical content and sound of the song, “Shivers” is very similar to “Bad Habits,” evidencing Sheeran’s lack of musical growth on “=.”

Nonetheless, Sheeran is still arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the generation. Some of his most beloved songs are emotional ballads that are not released solely for radio streams. For instance, “Visiting Hours,” a tearjerker like “Supermarket Flowers” from his album “÷,” was written as a way to grieve after the death of his close musical mentor Michael Gudinski. The built harmony within the song reveals the magnitude of pain Sheeran experienced in the aftermath of Gudinski’s death and the lyrics express his desperate wish for heaven to have visiting hours. 

Other notable tracks off the album include “Overpass Graffiti,” a song about an old love that, like graffiti, will never fade, and “2step,” a hip-hop track similar to several songs from his No.6 Collaboration Project that includes several rap verses. 

Overall, throughout “=,” Sheeran reflects on becoming a husband and a father and experiencing loss. As made apparent through both his lyrics and the emotion conveyed through his voice, this album is an altogether cohesive project that gives fans a deeper glimpse into Sheeran’s life.

We’ll Remember It “All Too Well”

by The Cowl Editor on November 18, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

We’ll Remember It “All Too Well”

An Iconic Era Begins Again with Red (Taylor’s Version)

Madison Palmieri ’22

Taylor Swift’s fans can certainly say they are “The Lucky One(s).”

In the past year alone, the icon has released a chart-topping album, evermore, the companion to the Grammy-winning folklore. She also released a re-recording of another one of her Grammy-winning records, 2008’s Fearless, among a myriad of other content ranging from “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” to folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.

Now that the air has turned colder and the autumn leaves are “falling down like pieces into place,” the time has come for another treat for fans: Red (Taylor’s Version). 

Red (Taylor’s Version) is the second in a series of re-recordings of Swift’s first six albums that the artist plans to release over the course of the next couple of years in order to regain control over her early music, recorded with Big Machine Records, after Scooter Braun sold the master versions of it without Swift’s knowledge.

When Swift first announced her intent to re-record her stolen songs, fans immediately began to speculate as to the order in which she would release them. While it was no surprise that she began with mega-hit Fearless, fans were divided as to which album would come next: chronologically, Speak Now made the most sense, but 1989 fit with the time of the year projected for the next release.

Both of these guesses, however, were wrong. On Friday, June 18, Swift took to Instagram to announce that Red (Taylor’s Version) would release in November. The original release date was Nov. 19, but, to the excitement of fans, the artist gifted them with the re-recording a week early on Nov. 12.

From the first lines of album opener “State of Grace,” Swift instantly transports fans back to 2012. With slightly re-worked stylings and matured vocals, the artist’s growth in the nine years since recording the original version of the record is clear. From smash-hits such as “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and title track “Red” to fan-favorites like “Treacherous,” “The Lucky One,” and, of course, her magnum opus “All Too Well,” Swift takes listeners on a nostalgic, emotional trip down memory lane.

Notably, the album also includes new versions of existing tracks not published on the original Red. When she first wrote these songs, Swift gave one, “Better Man,” to Little Big Town; she recorded another, “Babe,” with Sugarland. Another addition to Red (Taylor’s Version) is “Ronan,” a notoriously emotional track written in honor of a young boy who died of cancer.

Although fans were delighted to see how these new versions of their “old favorite song(s)” compared to the originals, they were perhaps more so anticipating the album’s “vault” tracks. Swift wrote these songs during the original Red era, but they did not make the final version of the 2012 album. This time around, however, she invited some of her fellow artists to bring these previously-unheard songs to life.

“Nothing New,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, is by far the most emotional of the six vault tracks. With poignant lyrics such as “Lord, what will become of me/Once I lose my novelty?” and “How can a person know everything at 18/But nothing at 22?/And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” fans gain an intimate glimpse into a young Swift’s fears of becoming irrelevant, a theme also explored in “The Lucky One.” 

Although Swift’s fears thankfully did not come true, with the artist more relevant than ever today, one line remains quite prophetic given how Swift has inspired rising stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Conan Gray: “I know someday I’m gonna meet her/It’s like a fever dream/The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen/She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me.” “Nothing New” is also notable for being the first Swift track to feature a female artist on an entire verse, rather than simply on backing vocals.

“Message in a Bottle” and “The Very First Night” are the two most energetic vault tracks, with an upbeat style and bubbly lyrics reminiscent of early 2010s hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” instantly bringing listeners back to the now long-gone summers of that time. Notably, “Message in a Bottle” is the first song Swift wrote with Max Martin and Shellback, with whom she partnered to create hits such as “Blank Space.”

“I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton not only proves that “country Taylor” is alive and thriving in 2021, but also affirms her knack for witty critique. Swift pokes fun at her ex’s lifestyle, from his “silver-spoon gated community” to his “organic shoes and million-dollar couch.” The song’s reference to how her former flame attends “cool indie music concerts every week” is a nod to a line in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” 

Another notable line is “Mr. Superior Thinkin’,” a potentially purposeful nod to “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a vault song from Fearless (Taylor’s Version). One of the final lines of the track, “I bet you think about me when you say/’Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me,’” is a perfect example of Swift’s knack for self-satire, as evident on tracks such as “Better Than Revenge” and “Blank Space.” 

The other vault tracks, “Forever Winter” and “Run,” nicely compliment the other previously-unreleased tracks as well as the album as a whole. The former can be interpreted as forerunner to evermore’s title track, using wintery imagery to explore themes of helping someone persevere through depression and find hope. The latter, featuring Swift’s longtime friend and collaborator Ed Sheeran, sets a scene that calls to mind “the road not taken” in “‘tis the damn season,” another evermore track.

Perhaps the most anxiously-awaited track on Red (Taylor’s Version), however, was“All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” A longtime urban legend among Swift’s fans, few believed that the song actually existed, let alone that it would ever see the light of day. At 10 minutes and 13 seconds, it is the album’s longest track; as a re-imagined version of one of the artist’s most popular and beloved songs, it is the album’s biggest standout.

The version of “All Too Well” released on the original Red album back in 2012 perfectly encapsulates the whirlwind of emotions that comes with looking back on a past relationship after its magic has long faded; the “10-Minute Version” of the beloved track adds a layer of criticism and self-knowledge to the romanticized relationship described in the original version.

Indeed, whereas “All Too Well” focuses on Swift’s more positive memories of her former partner, the “10-Minute Version” isn’t afraid to shy away from the uglier aspects of their relationship. Lines such as “He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was/’Til we were dead and gone and buried,” “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath,” and “I’m in a new hell every time you double-cross my mind/You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine /And that made me want to die” add a deeper, darker, and more profound layer to the already heart wrenching song. The actor about whom the song is believed to be written has long incurred the wrath of Swift’s fans, but now, he may want to look into joining the witness protection program.

“All Too Well (10-Minute Version)” also features references to other Red songs. For instance, Swift paints the same scene depicted in “The Moment I Knew,” with one line describing how her father said that “It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one” after seeing her break down when her ex failed to show up to her birthday party. The line, “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes/I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age” references Swift’s remembrance of how her ex didn’t think she was funny in “Begin Again,” while also delivering a scathing condemnation of his tendency to prey on young women.

The 2012 version of Red was a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. Swift’s re-imagining of this iconic album proves once again not only her sheer talent and once-in-a-generation ability to truly connect with listeners, but also her dedication and tenacity. Producing chart-topping album after chart-topping album is a feat in and of itself; producing re-recordings of these records a decade later that are just as, if not more, successful than the originals affirms Swift’s status as a true musical icon.

Indeed, Swift’s fans truly are “The Lucky One(s).” While Red (Taylor’s Version) will be celebrated for years to come, they were able to watch this iconic era in the artist’s discography “Begin Again.”

Album Review: Lorde’s Solar Power

by The Cowl Editor on October 7, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Album Review: Lorde’s Solar Power

The Personal Growth of the Artist and Her Listeners

Talia Rueda ’23

Lorde came into the music industry in 2013 in full force. She offered a distinctive music style to the world of Tumblr-lovers while also being highly relatable. Her first album, titled Pure Heroine, gave listeners the iconic singles “Royals” and “Ribs” that still evoke the utmost emotion today, even after fans have graduated from the grunge-Tumblr era. Lorde’s first album did exactly what it was meant to do as she entered the industry, which was to make her mark as a blossoming artist. She was young, and so were her listeners, who were displaying their emotions on social media for the first time. Indeed, in several ways, the artist and her listeners have grown up together.

This was certainly evident with Lorde’s second album, Melodrama, which blessed listeners’ ears in 2017. Fans saw a new chapter of the singer’s life, one with a less innocent point of view. The album’s title was a superb fit for its content, and the artist successfully appealed to listeners’ emotions. Something was different this time around: Lorde was growing up and learning to navigate the brutality of being a young woman.

So, what stage of life are Lorde and her fans at with her third album, four years later? Its title offers a clear indication of the answer to this question.

Solar Power was released on Aug. 20, 2021. Listeners were anxious to see what Lorde was going to make them feel this time. What many have probably found, though, is that Lorde did not have to make them feel anything: they were already on the same page.

The album demonstrates a significant amount of growth from her last release four long years ago. This did not come as a surprise. Not only had Lorde taken four years to release a new project, but she also removed herself from the grid in the meantime, disappearing from both social media and the public. Avid followers know that she took time to reflect, perhaps on her grief as shown on Melodrama, or maybe on climate change as she traveled from New Zealand to Antarctica.

One thing is clear from her new release—Lorde seems truly content and untroubled. In a departure from her past albums, her lyrics and production have a new sense of freedom, and she seems to want her listeners to feel the same delight she has been experiencing. For instance, Solar Power’s second single, “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” contains lyrics expressing a carefreeness that seems so different from the intensity of Melodrama. These lines read, “Cause all the music you loved at sixteen, you’ll grow out of / And all the times they will change, it’ll all come around / I don’t know / Maybe I’m just / Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon again.”

These lines seem to perfectly capture Lorde’s internal growth. Indeed, “Stoned at the Nail Salon” in particular discusses how her mindset has changed from when she was 16 years old. She also acknowledges that it is okay to grow apart from the habits and interests of one’s youth.

In addition to the lyrical differences between the artist’s earlier work and her latest release, the production of Solar Power takes an easier approach. The music itself is much more simple and reserved in its organization. Lorde even allows some harmonies from other artists on this album, including iconic indie singers Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo. In these and other aspects of the album, from lyrics to harmonies, it is clear that Lorde has become significantly lighter and seems glad to share this radiance with listeners.

Lorde’s newfound perspective, as expressed on Solar Power, embodies the new chapter of life that she is in. After years of privacy and remoteness, she is back to showcase how she has healed.

Many of Lorde’s fans have felt the emotions expressed on her highly personal first and second albums, drawing connections between her life and theirs. Her listeners have always been on the same page as her. Solar Power is different, though. If fans did not already feel a connection to the relief that Lorde has experienced, they will after listening to the album. The artist has chosen to nurture healing and peace in her own life, and the album’s therapeutic softness may do the same for listeners.