Simon Price on One Direction: One Direction - Before it all goes wrong, give Harry what he needs

A decent song, that is. Because it's only a matter of time before One Direction lose their way

Something's not right. Something very bad is about to happen. I feel it in my bones. No, I don't mean the One Direction concert. A One Direction concert is what it is, and I don't have it in my heart to get righteously angry about it. Not when there are dozens of solipsistic singer-songwriters out there, fresh from public school, believing that ownership of a wooden Washburn gives them a free pass to pour out the contents of their thimble-sized souls. A simple boy-band concert is never going to be as deserving of viciousness as one of those.

But, as Grace Dent recently wrote in these pages, pop is not ethically harvested. When you've been watching concerts like this on a regular basis for over a decade, you become keenly aware of a spectral hand turning the handle of a giant grinder like the Scarfe-animated headmaster in Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall", and converting yet another hapless team of teenagers into worm-shaped strips of sellable meat pulp. Already, this year, we've seen Justin Bieber go totally pencils-up-nostrils/pants-on-head, and you wouldn't bet against one of these poor saps being next. Prime candidate would appear to be their de facto frontman, of whom Dent wrote: "Harry Styles, I wager, has no more freedom right now than a battery hen. He is the luckiest, yet most spiritually doomed boy in the world."

Styles is America's fantasy idea of a cute Englishman, which can't have harmed One Direction's astounding Stateside success, which has seen them, alongside Adele, lead an unexpected third British invasion. He's also the one who's got "solo career" written all over him, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, we meet One Direction two albums in, they're 19, they've been to the gym and the tattooist and they look slightly more like men than children, but they've yet to go badly off the rails.

And lord knows the temptations must have been there. Then again, One Direction's audience is now so young that any thought of groupie-based bacchanalia is off the menu Even since the first time I saw them, in Birmingham's NIA just 14 months ago, the average age of 1D's fanbase has fallen to the point that even the band's X Factor non-victory in 2010 is the stuff of distant legend. Floating on a suspended raft over the screaming heads of every schoolgirl in the East Midlands, the five members are junior Ancient Mariners tonight: "water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink". During "C'mon C'mon", a few fans throw tampons at Styles, perhaps to indicate that they're old enough to use them. Harry looks perturbed, as well he might.

The whole situation must be perturbing. In the natural order of things, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, and the completely interchangeable Louis Something and Liam Whatever would be in local pubs breaking local hearts, not putting themselves through this brain-mashing insanity.

The fantasy that they're just boys next door larking about is exactly what's got the screamagers so excited. In the first of a number of pre-filmed interludes, we meet them one by one at a suburban houseparty, DJ-ing, smashing pinatas and so on, except for Harry, who is curiously apart from it all, sitting in a smoking jacket in a leather armchair reading a book and puffing on a pipe. They all end up in the swimming pool, except for Zayn, although he does end up wearing a chicken costume in the second clip depicting the party's hungover aftermath, surrounded by live hens. Even more zoophilically, we see Harry recovering in the bath in the company of a real, pink-dyed goat.

But the industry abhors a vacuum, and if it wasn't 1D, it would be someone else. Already, near-identical X Factor losers Union J are waiting in the wings. One Direction just happened to be in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time, recruited to do battle in the pop trenches so that Simon Cowell can buy a bigger beachside mansion.

They can't sing in any meaningful sense: if all five of them have a go, they average out at somewhere in the vicinity of the note. They can't dance either, just slouch around in skinny jeans with the occasional handstand contest or outbreak of homoerotic play-fighting. Another clip shows them putting on fat-suit or old-person disguises, then busking, breakdancing and dispensing hugs in Camden Market. Lads, mucking about, having a go. One Direction's entire marketing strategy in a nutshell. It's all image management, a fact starkly underlined when the band's PR company tell us no press accreditation is being granted to photographers on this tour.

Sadly, what this concert needs is a Fast-Forward button so that we can zoom to the part of 1D's career where they release a genuinely great song. Despite having the most expensive songwriters Syco can buy them (especially on rush-released second album Take Me Home), including Ed Sheeran, Guy Chambers, Kelly Clarkson, RedOne, plus all those composers you've never heard of but wrote everything in the charts, we're yet to hear One Direction's "Back for Good". The closest is probably the McFly-penned "I Would" (a brilliantly coy title, a laddish declaration of lust masquerading as a romantic vow).

Nothing makes you feel that you're turning into your parents quite as much as complaining about pop acts of the day desecrating the songs of your own youth, but One Direction's mash-up of Blondie's "One Way or Another" and The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" is a doubly abominable cultural war crime.

That said, I'd be the first to applaud if one of 1D's own songs rose above the morass of indistinguishable saccharin ballads, and I hope it happens before their inevitable implosion.

Critic's Choice

The mighty Suede, with Brett Anderson, celebrate their acclaimed comeback album Bloodsports at London's Alexandra Palace (Sat). Meanwhile, Simple Minds follow the success of their early albums-based 5x5 tour with a greatest-hits jaunt, beginning at the Waterfront, Belfast (Thu); Sands Centre, Carlisle (Fri) and City Hall, Newcastle (Sun 31)