NEW YORK(AFP) - One Direction has returned for the fourth straight year with a holiday season album, as the boy band proves its longevity through a gradually maturing sound.
The British heartthrobs stormed onto the stage in 2010 with an appearance on the talent show The X Factor. Since 2011, the band has released an album every year in November, in time for the holiday shopping season.
With their fourth album released on Monday, One Direction defies the short shelf lives that are notorious among boy bands as the five members - whose early works were often penned by others - take turns on writing the songs.
The album - entitled, simply, Four - stays true to One Direction's style of fresh-faced pop but increasingly incorporates rock elements, with several tracks resembling the power ballads of 1980s arena bands.
The first track, Steal My Girl, opens the album with keyboards reminiscent of Journey's hits before quickly merging into the boy band style of a polished vocal chorus.
One Direction, unlike earlier generations of synthesizer-driven boy bands, has always embraced guitar. On the latest album, the guitar leads the way on several tracks including Clouds and Stockholm Syndrome.
The lyrics revolve around familiar themes of youthful love but also repeatedly speak of coming to terms with getting "older", with the band's senior member Louis Tomlinson hitting the ripe age of 23 next month.
"Let's have another toast to the girl almighty / Let's pray we stay young, stay made of lightning," Niall Horan sings on Girl Almighty.
The ballad 18 waxes nostalgic for that age: "I want to love, like you made me feel when we were 18."
Act My Age, which appears on the album's deluxe edition, predicts the future with dread, with the first verse running, "When I'm fat and old and my kids think I'm a joke, 'cause I move a little slow when I dance/ I can count on you after all that we've been through."
One Direction's last album, Midnight Memories, was the best seller worldwide for 2013, selling four million copies within the year despite coming out in November.
The band faces a greater challenge if it wants to repeat its feat as Taylor Swift smashed expectations this month with 1989, whose release led to the highest sales in the United States in a single week in 12 years.
Unlike Swift, who controversially pulled her music off Spotify in a dispute over compensation to artists, One Direction's Four appears on the streaming service.