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Everything We Know About Niall Horan’s Solo Debut Album, ‘Flicker’

Niall Horan Slow Hands Single
Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

He was always the rocker. Guitar slung over his back in the press photos, discovered strumming Justin Bieber covers on the steps of public parks, One Direction’s Niall Horan turns twenty-four today (September 13). Happy birthday, Niall! Buy yourself a nice guitar!

Like most fans, we’re patiently waiting for the singer-songwriter to get the whole solo thing properly on the road and into our Spotify playlists, so we rounded up everything that we could find about his big leap going solo.

UPDATE: Fresh from celebrating his birthday and partying like a rock star in Tokyo, Horan had an urgent update for his fans on Thursday, September 14:

Indeed, the album will be titled Flicker and it will be released on October 20. The lesson here: always trust fan forums. They know what’s up. (Usually.)

Meanwhile, you can listen to “Too Much to Ask,” below:

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A new track called “Flicker” is coming in October, and it may be the album title
One month after playing Ariana Grande’s One Love Manchester benefit concert, Niall announced he would hit the road on “a series of intimate shows” that were billed as Flicker Sessions 2017. They sold out in minutes. After realizing that it wasn’t a tie-in with that similarly titled and long-forgotten photo-sharing site, the name brought to mind an alternate version of something, like the bonus tracks that might be included in a deluxe edition. Back in March, in his Billboard cover story, Horan had called one of his upcoming tracks “Flicker”—described as “strings-laden” and “about the last night in a failing relationship”—as his favorite that he had recorded so far. Around the same time, he also told Billboard that he was already sitting on a finished product and he was deciding to “ride it out, see what happens, and then kind of let people know when I’m ready to go.”

On the second of these shows, at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in August, he introduced “Flicker” as the record’s title track, calling it the “most important song” he’d ever written. Also mentioned: “The album will be out next month…or should I say October, I kinda forgot what month we’re in right now.”

The diligent fans at a 1D message board claim to have ascertained October 20th as the record’s release date, based on a screengrab of a pre-order page from Horan’s label, Capitol. That link, however, is now down.

“This Town” and “Slow Hands” will probably be on his album
Last year and with minimal warning, Horan let loose the first official bombast of his post-1D career, a Greg Kurstin-produced track called “This Town” that Horan told the Zach Sang Show was “the first taste of a larger album to come.”

Written by Horan and a host of 1D old timers, initial reads suggested less of a divorce from the old band than his peers have postured—Styles, for instance, went with longtime Kanye collaborators like Jeff Bhasker for “Sign of the Times.” Acoustic-driven, comparisons were made to “Little Things,” the tinny, maudlin mega hit that Ed Sheeran co-authored for the band in his pre-Swift days. But “This Town” is actually good! It doesn’t push at you like a Mumford & Sons would-be banger and Horan slips into the chorus as effortlessly as latte art swirls.

And, as if to prove that Horan can makes moves in the bedroom as much as the coffee shop, he let another single go earlier this year: “Slow Hands,” co-written this time with Tobias Jesso Jr., who is either known as an acclaimed indie label poster boy or that nice Canadian fellow who wrote some songs for Adele and Sia. But “Slow Hands” is an odd fit: Horan tracing a night of the hot stuff, complete with “Fingertips puttin’ on a show” and wailing bass throbs. If it feels like an update on an old formula, it very much is: Horan has directly connected “Slow Hands” to Dirty Laundry,” a solo hit by Eagles singer Don Henley. Horan’s connection with Henley runs deep: back in that Billboard story, he revealed that he and Henley are regular palls. “I call him ‘Dad.’ He calls me ‘Son,’” Horan reported.

Another detailed revealed in the Billboard story was Horan’s work with Don Was, former frontman of ‘80s funky New Wave wonders Was (Not Was) and, most recently, helmed the latest record from the Rolling Stones. So we’re expecting something classically funky in those deep cuts.

Most of the album may already be out there, sorta
So far, Horan has played three shows of his Flicker Sessions tour. Besides jubilant sing-alongs accompanying his two singles (which have both been hits) and a version of a One Direction number (beginning encores with Four’s “Fool’s Gold”) the sets have included eleven potential Flicker fillers, all of which have been diligently jotted down and discussed by fans on Genius. Will all of these songs make it on the record? Do the shoddily-shot YouTube videos that thousands of people around the world have already watched give us an idea of what Flicker will sound like? It’s likely that he’s using the live tour to test out how he wants to tease out the rest of the record, though he did mention that his next single will be a number from the set lists called “Too Much to Ask,” more on that below.

Those looking for further potential Horan material will find elsewhere a cover of Julia Michaels’ down tempo hit “Issues,” a cover that Horan performed on BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge this summer. Slidifying his old school rock rep, he also performed a cover of King Harvest’s 1972 hit “Dancing in the Moonlight” on BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words program.

The next single is likely “Too Much to Ask” and the music video’s already been shot
Horan saddened some fans when he scrapped plans for a music video for “Slow Hands” but their concerns should be abated by the promise that he’s been hard at work for the launch of single number three. A post on Twitter purports to show the singer on the way to that music video shoot in the beginning of last month. If I had to guess, we’ll be seeing a sudden drop of the whole thing sometime soon.

Collaborators galore? Maybe, maybe not
On their respective debuts, both Zayn Malik and Harry Styles have kept things curiously light on high-profile collabs: Zayn kept his duet with Taylor Swift tucked away on the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack and Styles ditched a song he had “jammed out” with his pal Ed Sheeran. Horan, on the other hand, is less wary of group work: “When One Direction comes knocking, f— what I’m doing,” he told Billboard. In lieu of his band mates, with whom he remains very close, Horan may have assembled a potential Avengers of pop rock.

Even before “My Town” hit airwaves, rumors were abound that a collab had been long in the bin with Canadian talent Shawn Mendes, who told The Late Late Show’s James Corden that he had been “talking to [Horan] for a long time” and that a session would occur as soon as their schedules lined up. The two had the chance to iron out some details when they teased a version of Mendes’ “Mercy” backstage at the American Music Awards. In April, at his Camp Izze festival in Brooklyn, Mendes reiterated, “We will, we will write a song.” However, more recent signs are pointing to no: in an interview in September on New Zealand’s ZM network, Horan claimed to “not even know where he [Mendes] is at the moment,” which bodes poorly. Unless he’s just messing with us.

On the other hand, one of the songs from his Flicker Sessions set lists, “Seeing Blind” will definitely feature country singer Maren Morris, whose “My Church” won a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017. I found Horan’s solo version of the track to be a surprising highlight of the acoustic sets, having the kind of effortless charge of 1D’s best material (“Tell Me a Lie,” “What a Feeling”). With the promise of Morris’ performance, she’ll also be touring with Horan on some dates, along with the Henley bona fides, in a likely bid to sell to country radio; an interesting place surely, to collect potential 1D stans.

But if Morris sounds like a lowkey team up for a powerhouse debut, fans should be aware of rumors that have been swirling for that Horan had landed some studio time with notorious workaholic Rihanna. Way back in the summer of 2016, when gamblers were predicting that Horan would be the next to follow Malik’s footsteps, a number of bets were hedged on Horan scoring a duet with the “Love the Way You Lie” singer. Much of this seems to be based, however, on a since deleted-post on Cambiar News, headlined “Niall Horan to Sing an Extraordinary Duet with Rihanna.”

But given the enthusiastic chart reaction that Rihanna’s last dive into folk pop received, the Kanye and Paul McCartney team-up “FourFiveSeconds,” perhaps a Horan/Rihanna duet will be in the cards at some point.

Niall Horan’s Best Live Vocals:

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One Direction Through the Years:

NEXT: NIALL HORAN AND LIAM PAYNE REUNITE BACKSTAGE

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