Four is One Direction's fourth studio album which was released on November 17, 2014 by Columbia Records & Syco Music.
On April 27, 2014, it was confirmed that One Direction were working on their fourth studio album. Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne worked on the majority of the album with songwriters Julian Bunetta, John Ryan, and Jamie Scott; Harry Styles and Zayn Malik also co-wrote tracks with Bunetta, Ryan, Scott and producer Johan Carlsson.
The name and cover of the album were announced on 8 September on One Direction's official website, along with a free download of a song called "Fireproof", which was available for 24 hours.
"Fireproof" was written by Payne and Tomlinson along with John Ryan, Jamie Scott and Julian Bunetta, who also wrote their single "Story of My Life." In the 24-hour span, 1.1 million downloads were generated. The song was uploaded onto the band's Vevo account on 22 September.
In an interview with Simon Cowell, it was revealed that one of the songs for the album will be titled "18". The song was written by Ed Sheeran, who also wrote "Little Things" and "Moments" for the group. Horan came up with the name of the album, commemorating the fact that it is the band's fourth album and that it has been four years since their formation.
- Steal My Girl 3:48
- Ready To Run 3:16
- Where Do Broken Hearts Go 3:49
- 18 4:08
- Girl Almighty 3:21
- Fool's Gold 3:30
- Night Changes 3:46
- No Control 3:19
- Fireproof 2:54
- Spaces 4:16
- Stockholm Syndrome 3:34
- Clouds 3:51
"Four" quickly rose to the top of the UK Albums Chart, with 142,000 copies sold during its first week, giving One Direction their third consecutive number one album. Based on UK sales, it was certified Gold by the BPI in its first week, and certified Platinum in its fourth week.
The deluxe edition of the album became the top charted album on iTunes in some 67 countries. In the US, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart on the week ending 23 November 2014, with sales of 387,000.
One Direction became the first musical group to have each of their first four studio albums debut at No. 1; the Monkees and the Kingston Trio also reached No. 1 with their first four albums but not in the first week of sales.
The band also follows three solo artists who have attained No. 1 status with their first four albums: Britney Spears and DMX in 2003, and Beyoncé in 2011. (In 2013, Beyoncé's fifth album also debuted at No. 1.)
"Four" sold 814,000 copies in the US in 2014, the ninth best-selling album of the year. The album reached its millionth sales mark in the U.S. in August 2015, and has sold 1,016,000 as of October 2015.
"Four" received generally positive reviews from music critics. Some argued that the members' songwriting showed signs of maturity, while others claimed the musical content was too similar to the band's previous work.
On Metacritic, the album received a score of 65, which indicates generally favorable reviews.
Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph found "an unlikely comparison to Bruce Springsteen in the quintet's latest offering", and that the album was "hard to dislike: it's cheery, uplifting, high spirited and good fun", but did still say it was "songwriting by numbers".
AllMusic's review said it was the group's "fourth well-crafted, packed-with-great-pop-songs album in a row", although did cynically point out the pattern of each of said albums being released just in time for "optimal holiday-season gift-giving."
Tshepo Mokoena of The Guardian gave the album a more mixed review of three-stars, again drawing comparisons with Springsteen but with the caveat of being "hardly groundbreaking pop."
Jim Faber of the New York Daily News also gave three stars and praised the group for "confronting their limitations" but at the same time questioned why whilst doing so they spent "so much time looking back with longing", pointed out an apparent "anxiety" and expressed disappointment that whilst Four represents a step forward in their history, it "represents a step back in both sound and sensibility".
Andy Gill, writing for The Independent, commented that the album is "a long way from the standard X Factor fare" while praising the songwriting of Tomlinson and Payne.
Kitty Empire, writing for The Guardian, stated that the album "ups the chords a smidgen further" and that the group's "new direction owes a substantial debt to the big guitar pop of the 80s" while also adding that the group's music is "no longer kids' stuff."
Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone wrote that "One Direction extend their winning streak, with echoes of the 1970s and 1980s" while also commenting that "the vocal duties are divvied up in ways that highlight the singers’ similarities" and that they "have mastered the ancient boy-band art of whispering directly into listeners’ ears."
Jamieson Cox of Time wrote that "the album as a whole takes another step towards the stadium-sized rock first suggested by Midnight Memories and "their take on the sound is immaculate: arrangements are grand and spacious, with guitar lines glistening and rhythms cavernous and blooming, and the band’s increasingly distinct vocals — allowed to sparkle via the use of harmony more than ever — at the forefront" while commenting that the album sounds similar to "80s arena anthems in the vein of Journey, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Springsteen.
Andrew Unterberger of Spin praised the album's 80's sound while commenting that the songs are "intoxicating, adrenalizing, and undeniably visceral blasts of old-school pop/rock, furthered by the group’s commitment to patently ridiculous lyrics" while ending the review with "the question of whether they can find a permanent safe haven is less certain — if they pretend to be Bon Jovi for long enough, will we forget that they started out as New Kids on the Block? Probably not, but hell, no boy band has ever made it this far and still managed to sell this much and sound this good."
James Reed of the Boston Globe commented that the album "is the first one that doesn’t immediately summon memories of The X Factor and that although "its mix of driving power pop, muscular harmonies, and acoustic alchemy is as manicured as the group’s previous bestsellers", is also "hints at a broader future for the lads". Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times said that the album "is their best work yet" while comparing the sound to Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, and David Bowie. Writing with Vice, Laura Reineke wrote that "Four is "a focused, genuinely fun pop-rock album, and a sign of truly promising growth that isn't likely to taper off soon" while adding that "it’s smarter lyrically, warmer emotionally, and considerably more cohesive than any of their three previous studio outings."
Less positive reviews of the album came from Chuck Arnold of Billboard magazine and James Rainis of Slant Magazine, both awarding just two-and-a-half stars.
The former claimed that "One Direction aren't ready to let go of their bubble-gum days" whilst Rainis ended his take by saying "the album's irresistibly obvious choruses, hackneyed sentiments, and puppy-eyed earnestness can come off as endearing when the songwriting is clever enough, but every misstep is, despite the band's efforts to assert more control over their music, a painful reminder of One Direction's status as a manufactured, focus-grouped pop entity."
Annie Zaleski, writing for The A.V. Club, wrote that the album lacks "creative urgency" and "is dominated by pastel synth washes and inoffensive whiffs of EDM, as well as midtempo syrupy croons and sonic retreads" while ending her review with "that retreat from distinct personality—something the members possess in spades—is perhaps the most disappointing thing about Four.
Ed Power of The Irish Independent commented that the album "falls short of the radical decoupling from the past such ambitions demand" and that "it's a little rugged around the edges yet at the centre is blandly, tiresomely soppy."
The album was placed at number eleven on Cosmopolitan's list of "The 20 Best Albums of 2014".
Jessica Goodman and Ryan Kistobak of The Huffington Post included the album on their list of 2014's best releases, claiming that "2014 will forever be known as the year that we realized One Direction was actually, dare we say, good." Goodman further complimented the album as a "complex, feel-good trip down young love lane".