Album Review – Harry Styles
Teenage girls have always been pretty smart when it comes to sifting through their teen idols and spotting the real deal. The early Beatles concerts? All teenage girls.
In 1983, a flock of Duran Duran fans almost closed down Manhattan:
In the late 90s, it was N*Sync that we (the serious looking guys wearing CBGB t-shirts and sulking at concerts) laughed at for being the latest boy band to come off the pop assembly line but then Justin Timberlake turned out to be one hell of a talent. The success of One Direction was a necessary link in the pop music food chain, a rite of passage for teenage girls. But what happens when those fans grow up?
When Justin Timberlake wanted to establish himself outside of N*Sync, he borrowed a page out of George Michael’s book and stuffed his first solo record with pop melodies built around R&B hooks and dance grooves. On his debut solo album, Harry Styles forsakes that proven formula and dives straight into a guitar driven pop-rock sound that shares more in common with the CD collections of the fathers of One Direction fans. If you are reading this ironically and awaiting the punchline, there isn’t one. As far as “leap albums” go, you know, the album that takes you from teen idol to “maturing artist”, Harry Styles does more things right than you would ever expect.
Harry Styles successfully puts some distance between himself and the One Direction empire as he takes the first step towards establishing his own identity
The George Michael allusion does hold some water on the single “Sign of the Times” but its Michael’s socially aware “Praying For Time” that comes to mind. There’s a seriousness to Styles that slowly reveals a sense of loneliness in his music which culminates on the unguarded “From the Dining Table”. Styles opens up about life inside the One Direction bubble where hotel room seclusion and masturbation are the reality. These are unexpected moments from a teen idol and if they resonate with his existing fan base, expect him to be around for a long time.
The classic rock touchstones are a little too obvious at times such as the Badfinger riff that anchors “Ever Since New York” and the Beatles homage “Sweet Creature” but this reveals Styles’ desire to find his own voice. At times, Styles even swoons in a reverb drenched haze that echoes Jeff Buckley at his most ethereal. Shifting gears entirely, the crunchy “Only Angel” and “Kiwi” show enough swagger to sound like Jack White fronting Jet. It’s a miss mash of styles but Harry Styles sounds comfortable navigating the different waters even if the songwriting often comes up short on depth.
All things considered, Harry Styles successfully puts some distance between himself and the One Direction empire as he takes the first step towards establishing his own identity. The diverse influences are not to be dismissed as the firm hand of producers looking to ensure he keeps the Styles brand printing money (Ed Sheeran already mastered that strategy). Rather, Styles comes across as an introspective music fan with an i-Phone full of different albums that he wants to explore. What he learns from the Harry Styles album cycle will hopefully narrow down his range of vision and allow him to continue developing as an artist. Looks like the teenage girls were right, again.