EP Review: Liam Payne—’First Time’

Posted: by The Editor

There’s a specific sort of rejuvenation you feel from waking up on a Sunday morning with sunlight filtering in through your window. The hectic workweek has come and gone, and the loud buzz of Saturday night has been replaced with the tranquility of Sunday’s presence. It’s a limbo between the chaos of the weekdays and the animation of the weekend, and it’s the perfect time to take that long-awaited deep breath. Liam Payne’s latest EP, First Time, feels like that refreshing, extended inhale. 

Coming up on the fourth year of One Direction’s indefinite hiatus, and three years from the first time Liam Payne was seen in a studio producing solo material, the former 1D member has finally released a cohesive body of work. Following his biggest singles, “Strip That Down (Feat. Quavo),” “Get Low (Feat. Zedd),” “For You (Feat. Rita Ora), and the latin-infused “Familiar (Feat. J. Balvin)”, it was obvious the genre Payne was chasing. So when the four-track First Time dropped, it was surprisingly only splashed, not drenched, in his former sound. 

The EP begins with a title track, featuring French Montana, that sets the tone for what’s to come, pushing Payne into offbeat territory that he never full explored in his past work. It has the Latin foundation, but the song takes on an identity of its own, as its slow-burn grows brighter as the track goes on. “First Time” does follow similar lyrical themes to his previous works, focusing on superficial attraction, a common trope in many club anthems. But the slick production and authentic groove helps it overcome its stereotypical lyricism.

Regardless, the rest of the EP taps into a more personal and reflective journey of Payne’s self and his relationships. His writing picks up momentum as “Home With You” follows the infatuation and adoration he has for someone he wants to go home with and explore intimately This can be heard as he utilizes his falsetto singing, “Too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many fools here listening,” implying that he just wants to be alone with this person, away from the noise and distractions. The musicality of the track has several layers that exposes new instruments and sounds with every listen. It starts from a place of rising R&B, with Payne’s vocals  at the forefront. Then the track swells to a chorus full of interesting beats, clinking percussion, and a catchy melody. By the end, the earworm-of-a-chorus has already infected your mind.

“Depend on It” is the EP’s highest peak as it strips back every shiny production covering the rest of Payne’s discography. The track bares all, both vocally and lyrically. Being piano-driven, his voice is able to soak through the mix, showcasing the smooth vibrato and vocal range that’s always been his strongest musical weapon. “Depend on It” has a haunting aura that plays into the theme of Payne pleading for his relationship to fall back to how it used to be.   

The closer, “Slow,” sprouts familiarity in his boyband past. It booms with glossy synths underneath the head-bopping melody of his voice. The chorus has the enjoyable One Direction formula both in sound and vocals, and it’s incredibly difficult to refrain from blasting at full volume. There’s something that kindles warmth in closing the EP with a track that bumps shoulders with his roots.

First Time is a project that has had many anxiously holding their breaths to gauge Payne’s direction and potential as a solo artist. Fearing that the EP would feature the same generic sound of much of his singles, fans were hesitant to see where he’d take it. But,First Time reaches farther into Liam Payne’s musical mind and produces a body of work that’s not only promising artistically, but feels more authentic to who Payne is as a person As someone who always advocated that he was the member that had the most potential and musical intellect to grow to the level of the likes of Justin Timberlake, it is like breathing in the breeze of a Sunday morning to see Payne take a massive step towards that path with this release.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Hope Ankney | @hope_ankleknee

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