The real winners from among those who enter reality TV music competitions are often those that don’t come in first place. The UK X-Factor has various examples of this, the most obvious of course teen pop sensation One Direction.
London four-piece Kingsland Road appears to want to replicate that success, although their exit from the contest came relatively far sooner than that of 1D. Falling somewhere between the impossible slickness of that group and the faux rock credibility of Aussies 5 Seconds of Summer, the band may lack major label backing but they’re by no means devoid of the same intense marketability shared by their peers. Unashamedly a boy band, Kingsland Road may employ driving distorted guitars and propulsive drums in their music but the focus is firmly on making the songs memorable and relatable enough to lodge permanently in the listener’s consciousness.
The approach yields mixed levels of success. Proceedings get off to a good start with the vast array of vocal hooks packed into the chirpy summer-vibes on “We Are the Young”, a celebration of the band’s generation that’s ham-handed but enjoyably over the top. There’s a funk strut to first single “Dirty Dancer” and jaunty album highlight “Shoreline” that most distinguishes Kingsland Road from contemporaries and if expanded upon could yield fantastic results. It’s less convincing when the quartet get angsty on closer “Walk Away”, a dramatic departure from the sunny cheer of the rest of ‘We Are the Young’ as an album that aside from its big repeating vocal motif lacks the bite to make a real impact. If nothing else it’s an interesting contrast to the hugely inoffensive bulk of the album, of which the great real weakness is just how slick it all is.
Unapologetic pop music though this is, there’s a lack of the fearlessness and overwhelming confidence that distinguishes truly great pop, and consequently ‘We Are the Young’ fails to really stick. “Girl With No Name” and “Heaven Knows” are perfectly serviceable romance ballads that are just too polished for their own good, dripping in sentiment but devoid of either the killer melody or luscious arrangement that would make them great. Although the multiple vocalists in Kingsland Road all shine with distinctive and pleasurable singing, the lyrics they’re deploying are the title track aside mired in the typical love story tropes that have dogged a thousand other acts. Even on the best tracks, including again the title track and playful live anthem-in-waiting “Freedom”, the instrumentation too is uniformly underplayed to put emphasis on the vocal melodies, which would have been forgivable were they more memorable but in this instance simply leaves something wanting.
Youth is indeed the best weapon that Kingsland Road have in their arsenal on ‘We Are the Young’, their innocuous take on rock ‘n’ roll-based music impossible to really dislike and throwing up the odd great idea. There is however too much polish and not enough depth on the record for it really work as a rock one, and insufficient standout choruses and catchiness to make it a pop classic either. One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer may owe as much of their stature to image and marketing as they do the tunes they write (or have written for them), but they do have irrepressible earworm songs better than anything Kingsland Road have yet produced. Hugely likeable but lacking in that X factor to stand out, their debut is good fun but unfortunately little else beyond that.