Faith In The Future is a motto which epitomises Louis Tomlinson's optimistic worldview and attitude that has fuelled his surprise-laden second solo album of the same name.
In March 2021, Tomlinson first cryptically tweeted the title for the project to his 36 million followers, which sent them into a frenzy, and it's a mantra he lives by. With the ambitious Faith In The Future, the 30-year-old had a set of core aims: to produce a collection of songs designed for the live environment and to push his boundaries sonically -- two tasks he's risen to with aplomb.
For the most part of this year, Tomlinson has been in his happy place on the road touring his debut album, Walls, playing to over 500,000 fans over 80 shows across five continents, which confirms his status as one of Britain's most successful musical exports. The sold-out tour began in North America in February before making its way through Europe and then arriving in South America, Asia and Australia. The mammoth run included three dates at the Pepsi Center in Mexico City, a visit to London's Wembley Arena, and concludes on September 3rd at the 34,000-capacity Ippodromo SNAI San Siro in Milan.
After six years as a solo artist, this run has been a long overdue opportunity to have a catch-up with his international fanbase of adoring fans, who have streamed his music over 2 billion times on Spotify alone. These shows have helped him fully find his groove as a solo artist and given him a confidence boost ahead of the release of Faith In The Future. The album is brimming with hooks and journal-like reflections on life, which is the clearest indication yet of his artistry.
"Before lockdown, that phrase just spoke to me," Tomlinson says of the profound album title. "I had the idea that I'd like to name the album this, then everything happened in the world, and I tweeted out the title one day. I felt this magnetism towards it, and the longer I lived with it, I decided that's what it is now."
It's a spirit which Tomlinson has worn on his sleeve since the tour was postponed after just two Spanish dates due to the pandemic. After years of waiting for his first solo adventure to arrive, it abruptly ended within the first week. Still, he refused to be defeated and remained positive throughout.
Although it was only two headline dates, they were crucial in shaping the direction of Faith In The Future. "I'm lucky that I got to have the two shows before it got postponed. Because if it didn't, I would have been another two years of wondering. You can study as long as you want, but until you get out there and feel it, you don't know everything is going to go the right way," he says with unflinching honesty.
During the pandemic, Tomlinson didn't let it defeat him, and he instead became a record breaker with his 'Live From London' live stream. Staggeringly, the event sold over 250K tickets over two shows which gave him the Guinness world record for the biggest selling live stream ever from a male solo artist. Additionally, as a thank you to his fans, Tomlinson created the 'Away From Home' festival, which was a free event for 8,000 fans at Crystal Palace Bowl. This year, he's taking the festival to Malaga and sold-out the 18,000-capacity venue in 24 hours with The Vaccines and Carl Barat (The Libertines), both scheduled to appear on the curated line-up on August 27th.
These exercises helped keep Tomlinson's creative juices flowing after taking a well-earned rest during the early stages of the pandemic, which should have been spent touring. After spending the first portion of his adult life working 100 miles per hour with One Direction and then launching his solo career -- Tomlinson revelled in taking his time to make sure he got his sophomore album right. He's made Faith In The Future on his watch, and collaborators include Rob Harvey, Dan Grech (The Killers, The Vaccines, Halsey), Nico Rebscher (Alice Merton), Joe Cross (Courteeners), and Hurts frontman Theo Hutchcraft.
The album begins in emphatic style with the pounding drums of 'The Greatest,' which Tomlinson says is a celebration of the relationship has amassed with his avid fanbase. Speaking about the track, he reveals the song "was written with the written of being an opener not just for the album but the tour show, and feels like a statement of intent."
If that was the task at hand, then Tomlinson has passed with flying colours. 'The Greatest' signifies the beginning of a new era and a sizeable sonic departure from the softer nature of Walls. It would have been the safe option to re-create his debut, which has sold 1.2 million copies worldwide, but the 30-year-old is a natural risk-taker.
After the opener, Faith In The Future races into indie floor-filler, 'Written All Over Your Face,' which is the kind of song he feels his debut album lacked. "My biggest regret looking back on Walls, as much as I love it, there weren't enough moments which take you away from the centre of the record," he honestly remarks. "With songs like 'Written All Over Your Face,' they are full of these different feelings, different flavours, and different sounds, but importantly, they all make sense within the context of the record and help make up the identity."
Producer Mike Crossey (The 1975, Wolf Alice, Arctic Monkeys) was at the helm for the emotionally charged, 'Bigger Than Me' which Tomlinson reveals came from a "coming of age" realisation. "It was my first moment of excitement making this record, and where it felt we were on to something which honours the live show," he says.
"I've always strived to be a very normal, humble person in this life, but there's a line to that and a responsibility that comes from being in this position," he maturely says. "I realised from doing those live shows what it means to my fans and how everything I do is bigger than me. It's almost a coming of age for myself and putting opinions about myself to the back of my mind and thinking about what it potentially means for other people."
'Bigger Than Me' got the wheels in motion on Faith In The Future and played a pivotal part in shaping his creative process on the record. It was a eureka moment which helped establish a blueprint for Tomlinson, but that doesn't mean he sticks to one specific genre throughout the album.
Following the raucous start, Tomlinson's sophomore effort takes a calmer turn with the blissful roof-down summer anthem, 'Lucky Again.' Although it's slower than the opening three tracks, it's feel-good and infectious. It's also a song which has grown on the singer with every listen. "The longer I've lived with it, the more I've felt great about it," he commented.
After an easy listening breather, Faith In The Future returns to a pulsating pace with the energetic 'Face The Music.' The track grips you from the first line when Tomlinson liberatingly sings, "Good and bad and right and wrong are stories made up when we are young to scare us," before a sonic explosion ferries the listener into a scintillating chorus.
"It's almost got that danger to it that I had with 'Kill My Mind' (Walls), and that's something I gravitate towards," Tomlinson says of 'Face The Music.' "This song is about saying, 'I know I've got responsibilities and things I need to deal with, but I'll deal with that tomorrow.'"
On 'Chicago,' Tomlinson again adeptly showcases his knack for an invigorating hook while also flexing his ability to tell relatable stories through his songs, a skill he's honed to a tee. "It's the most traditional pop song on the album in terms of structure, melody and lyrically, but I think it's done in a credible honest way. Lyrically, I'm really proud of it, and I don't think I could have written it five years ago. There's a sense of maturity to it, not necessarily in the lyrics, but the concept itself."
'All This Time' sees Tomlinson dip his toes back into dance music. The decision to again experiment with this sound was inspired by listening to the Australian band DMA's third album, The Glow. He deliberately avoided this genre on his debut, but the 30-year-old says he later realised, "I was cutting my nose to spite my face, and this was a song that was me breaking out of having all these rules within what I want to do, and experiment. It's a good feeling to play with different sounds, but also for it all to still fit within the identity of the whole record."
Arguably the most adventurous moment on the record is 'Out Of My System.' It's a punky effort that will undoubtedly stop you in your tracks when you first hear it and then get stuck in your head. Admittedly, a few years ago, punk and Tomlinson would have sounded like unlikely bedfellows, but here they fit like a glove.
"It just fills me with confidence and makes me proud that we kind of went slightly off centre with it," Tomlinson remarks. "When we recorded it, I'd just been listening to 'Teddy Picker' by Arctic Monkeys, and I went in the room and said, 'Let's just try and go as punk as we can.'"
The affectionate 'Saturdays' is Tomlinson in full flow as he deals with the trials of tribulations that life throws up in a relatable, conversational manner. "'Saturdays' is one of my top tracks on the record, and I remember there was something magical in the room when we recorded it, and thinking, 'I can't wait to sing this.' Although I'm always looking for tempo, there's this other side to me too, and this is a really good ode to that," he says of his softer side.
Conversely, 'Silver Tongues' is an ear-worm bursting at the seams with joyful energy. On the track, Tomlinson celebrates the little intricacies of his relationship, yet, still manages to weave the universal sentiments within the personal. While it's another bold step forward sonically, it still aligns with his musical DNA. "A lot of the start of my career was being led by other people's opinions. After long enough, I realised that everyone's doing exactly the same thing, and everyone's guessing," he powerfully says.
Tomlinson passionately continues: "That's probably the song I'm most proud of on the record. And that was the first time I'd written a song that I could imagine being sung by an artist that I really like. I could imagine listening to it and really enjoying it."
Despite experimenting on his second album, Tomlinson also knows he needs to stay true to himself artistically and doesn't want to sound like a pastiche of others. He adds with more than a healthy pinch of self-awareness: "There's also a difference between making the stuff you want to make and making the stuff you want to listen to."
Contrastingly, 'She Is Beauty We Are World Class' is a full-blown dance track which is perfect for an Iberian sunset, yet, still feels genuine and on-brand. Fascinatingly, the title came from a piece of graffiti that a member of the writing team was struck by on the toilet of a train on his way to the recording retreat.
"It's probably the song we were the bravest with," he admits. "And I imagine when I first played into the record label that it was the one that stands out to them and made them think, 'Oh, this is a bit of a curveball.' But for me, that's why it's great."
Faith In The Future also features the retrospective 'Common People,' a beautiful and poignant homage to his hometown, Doncaster. "I'm at an age in my life where there's a lot of looking forward and looking back, thinking about good times and good memories. Doncaster is a massive part of me, I finished my European tour there, and it was extra special to play there. Even though I played Wembley Arena the night before, it was one of those pinch-yourself moments," he says.
"I think a song like 'Common People' was always going to happen. A lot has changed in my life, but when I look back at those times, it's only amazing memories. Well, most of them," Tomlinson laughs.
30 is a complex age that Tomlinson describes as a "crossroads," and he has found the time to contemplate on Faith In The Future. "I've got to that age now where I can feel myself at a crossroads, and I'm certainly years away from being a kid now," he says.
'Common People' also marks a tonal change on Faith In The Future with Tomlinson, which bleeds into the rest of the record as he takes a moment to reflect. 'Angels Fly' and 'Holding On To Heartache' are tearjerkers which he believes "acts as a transition between Walls and this album" and show that he hasn't completely abandoned the sound which made his debut album an international phenomenon.
The album's most tender moment is the closing track, 'That's The Way That Love Goes,' a number that conversationally observes a platonic love between two best friends. There was no other option to end Faith In The Future for Tomlinson, and it's a song that means everything to him. "That's our version of a lyric in 'Dry Your Eyes' by The Streets, he reveals. "I don't hear a lot of songs about a lad talking to his mate, and there's a nice feeling of honesty and truth in that song," he says heartfully.
There's a delicate balance to Faith In The Future, and Tomlinson exhibits the full capability of his talents while never refraining from sounding unapologetically like him for a nanosecond. Following the success of Walls, which charted in the Top 4 in the UK and Top 10 in the United States, there was understandably pressure weighting on his second outing, but it's a challenge he's thrived off.
Tomlinson has never been more assured about himself as an artist, and with an album as well-rounded as Faith In The Future, he has every right to be. Walls was an album he needed to get off his chest, but the Yorkshireman has now uncompromisingly expanded his wings and evolved on his head-turning second outing.