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Louis Tomlinson Leaned Into Vulnerability And Broke Down The Walls

How a new vision, a new band, and Noel Gallagher got him there

Louis Tomlinson's re-arrival as a solo star came with a killer chorus. And then another one.

The harmony-laden, Britpop refrain of "Kill My Mind" set a template later singles followed, with Louis leading pub sing-alongs, yeah-yeah chants, and booming drums that resound to the rafters. It should surprise no one that Walls, his electric debut solo album out today (January 31) after years of introspection and recalibration, is positively brimming with lofty hooks in the same tradition.

"I always want a big, melodic, catchy pop chorus," Tomlinson told MTV News. "But it's about what you put around that, musically and melodically, in the verses and stuff, to keep things interesting. The kind of music that I love listening to is music that's got big guitars in it, but also a big chorus that you can sing along to."

He went all in on both for title track, which Tomlinson calls both his favorite song on the album and its best. It's a ballad, adorned with sweeping violinists and cellists amid "25, 30 people in the room, all there just to put strings on the track for me, for my songs," he marveled. They lend the chorus an air of triumph; meanwhile, the symbolic obstruction in the title recall Tomlinson's growing pains after his former band One Direction went on hiatus in 2016. He's been candid about his struggle to launch a solo career that made sense to him and felt representative of himself, not of contemporary pop trends.

But "Walls" finds him breaking through, howling, "Now I stand taller than them all" on a towering chorus reminiscent of Oasis ("Acquiesce" and "Stop Crying Your Heart Out," in particular). In fact, the Gallagher brothers grandeur is so pronounced that Noel even gets a writing credit on the track. Tomlinson's not sure the famously cantankerous rock icon has actually heard it, though he's excited to have forged the connection. "It's just amazing to have a credit with him on it and him be OK with that," he said. "I'm sure he'll chat shit at some point, but he's there, so it's cool."

Fans who have long rooted for Tomlinson — the last 1D member to release a full album in the wake of the band's hiatus — have already found plenty to celebrate. They've incorporated the album title into their Twitter display names. They've mobilized in the comments on their hero's recent appearance on The Tonight Show, labeling him "the king of the graphic sweater." Above all, they've expressed their pride.

They remember "Always You," a more electronic and pop-leaning cut, from way back when Tomlinson teased it in 2017, and they had to hear the full version. Despite being grounded in a glossy sound Tomlinson has since taken a few steps away from — produced and written with the same team behind "Just Like You" — and despite some initial reservations from Tomlinson himself, it eventually found its way onto the final Walls tracklist, albeit with updated production. "Every single time I go online, I see the demand surge for this song, so I was like, for [the fans], I've got to put it on," he said. "It's a good song. It's for the fans."

Plus, its roaring chorus evokes the arena-lifting swell of his former band. So does that of "Don't Let It Break Your Heart," "Defenceless," and a few others, proving Walls finds Tomlinson following his instincts. He's even worked 1D fan favorite "Little Black Dress," which he co-wrote, into his current live show. The album also finds him singing the most personal and heartfelt lyrics of his career — ones he penned himself, often examining loss. He addresses his mother's death on "Two of Us." He admits to not being over someone on "Habit." He laments vanishing youth, when he and friends were "strong enough to get it wrong in front of all these people," on "Fearless." The man was feeling reflective.

"It's kind of all I've ever known as a writer, to be honest," he said. "I realized early on that to be a male solo artist and speak with honesty, people like that, and with vulnerability as well. So it's kind of all I've known, really, just to be autobiographical."

That includes musing on how childhood pals have grown too old seemingly before their time. "Cashed in your weekend treasures for a suit and tie, a second wife," Tomlinson sings late in the album, making an observation that echoes his former collaborator Ed Sheeran's hometown catch-up "Castle on the Hill." "It's like you're seeing your best mate at school, and he was a proper good laugh, and then you see him 15 years later, and he's got really serious and really uptight and he's forgot how to have fun," he said.

Tomlinson remembers. At the pub, he orders a Stella or a vodka Red Bull, depending on the vibe. He's still growing, too: He's noodling on an Eric Clapton signature Martin acoustic ("plays fucking beautiful"), and he plans to master it on tour. "I pick up the guitar every day, but I'm slow," he said. "When you can only play six, seven, eight chords, there's only so far you can go with it."

As that tour rolls across the globe from March to July, Tomlinson will have plenty of time to crumble the walls barricading him from his guitar-hero potential. His initial appearances fronting a live band, like at Jingle Ball L.A., have found him gripping the microphone stand before fully branching out.

"I noticed the space. All of a sudden, I've got to cover loads of the fucking stage, so that took me a sec," he said, but he's quick to shout out the musicians with him. They support him, and not just musically, even if a killer chorus does take a village. "It just makes the process easier — the group of us, as opposed to just me on my own."