Harry Styles – Harry Styles
On the first few listens, there is a lot to like about Harry Styles’ confident solo debut. One can only imagine the pressure he must have been under to produce something that could mitigate the stigma of his teenybopper roots. I can say with certainty that he lives up to the challenge, producing a mature, layered song cycle of surprising depth and assuredly not limited to – ‘one direction’.
The acoustic guitar plays a major role in the proceedings, providing an organic underpinning to the whole effort that is usually antithetical to the robotic soul of most modern pop music. There is no greater example of this than the echo drenched opening track, “Meet Me in the Hallway” whose chorus is punctuated by angular single string jabs.
From there things kick into a higher gear with the mega-smash, “Sign of the Times” an arena-ready power ballad that never really strays from the verse melody, but rather develops gradually, helped along by a lush backing track and atmospherics. Its strength lies in Styles’ vocal performance which at moments reminds me of a young Elton John. It is followed by what, for my money, is the album’s highlight – the rocker “Carolina”. The song begins with a rhythmic strut not dissimilar to the ‘70s radio staple “Stuck in the Middle With You” by one hit wonder Stealers Wheel and builds to a climax buoyed by a George Martin-esque string arrangement that whoops and thrusts with a muscular ebullience.
On the downside, there are a few clunkers in the mix; most notably the turgid one two punch of “Only Angel” and ‘Kiwi’ both of which are hampered by doltish lyrics and a modern sheen that doesn’t jibe with the aesthetic of the rest of the tunes which are decidedly retro….and they are pretty damned retro. To that end, many of the tracks are actually lifted wholesale from that bygone bellbottomed era. Whether it’s the guitar riff in Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” applied in “Ever Since New York”, his reworking of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on “Sweet Creature” or the opening phrase of “Woman” taken directly from Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets”, Styles certainly wears his influences on his sleeve for all to see. Still, if you’re gonna steal, you might as well steal from the best.
The record concludes with the beautifully pensive, “From the Dining Table”, a melancholy meditation on a crumbling relationship that starts off with – you guessed it – a spare thrum of acoustic guitar and builds to a welling crescendo of strings.
All in all, for what it is it’s as good as it gets, and I for one am looking forward to his future progression.