Review of Harry Styles Album by Harry Styles

I was hardly the right demographic for One Direction's oeuvre, so I was massively expecting, and perhaps hoping, to react to Harry's stylings with similar indifference, like that 'oh balls, here we go again' groan we all made when the recent election was called. But, damn his (lovely blue) eyes, he's turned out an eponymous debut album that's actually not half bad. 70s/80s-MOR-yacht rock though it may be (I'm sure the mid-size arena tour is already pencilled in), it's a credible attempt at shedding the 'boy' epithet, having shed the 'band' already, establishing his credentials as more grown up, more rounded - more 3D.

Harry Styles Harry Styles Album

It strikes as a well-constructed collage of his favourite influences from bygone decades. Opener "Meet Me in the Hallway" typifies the recurring soundscapes of "Wish You Were Here"-era Pink Floyd. Brimful of ZZ Top, "Only Angel" gives us a moment of ponderous schlock, plucked straight out of the lyric recycling bin, that isn't an isolated incident on the album, lauding a girl who's a 'devil between the sheets'. Despite being a collaboration with Kid Harpoon, the composition process for "Sweet Creature" can't have gone much further than Styles and Harpoon playing the Beatles' "Blackbird" to each other, shrugging, then saying, 'Let's just do that'. It's not all uber-retro, though. As much as Rolling Stone mag lauds his 'Rod Stewart' vocals, he's much more Kelly Jones and sometimes Fran Healy, like on "From The Dining Table", sounding like a slower track from Travis' "The Man Who". "Carolina" cross-fertilises Beck and Stealer's Wheel ('steal' being the operative word when you catch onto the tune).

There's also that preposterous Harry Poppins video for "Sign of the Times", but the song itself couldn't be a stronger statement of intent - long (5.40), lushly arranged, soaring, emotive. Even its concept, that of a mother dying in childbirth, using her last five minutes to give her new-born vital life guidance, lands him on a different planet from dancing all night to the best song ever. "Meet Me In the Hallway" is also a boldly understated, brooding opening, carrying the theme of unsuccessful relationships that recurs many times thereafter. A couple of times, he seems like he might be over-sharing, or settling scores. Whereas "Kiwi" may not-too-cryptically evoke one ex-girlfriend, "Two Ghosts" has to be an answer to Taylor Swift's "Style". It's an understated Glen-Campbelly delight on an album where the efforts at tenderness succeed far more than the outbreaks of swagger.

Back in 2010, it may have looked like Harry Styles had sold his soul, but that Faustian pact seems null and void with 2017's intrepid offering. No longer Directionally-challenged, let's see where this clarity takes him next.

Listen to Meet Me In The Hallway

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