Album review: Harry Styles finds his voice on his self-titled album
When the members of One Direction went off in their own directions, the greatest expectation was always likely to fall on the shoulders of Harry Styles.
He was not the first from the band to step off the decade’s mightiest pop juggernaut in favour of a personal journey, but he of the occasionally unruly hair is the one 20 million Twitter followers arguably were itching to hear from.
From a stylistic perspective, the prospect of a solo Styles was either a blessing or a conundrum. After all, 1D were frequently eclectic, appeal-to-alls. But in assembling a premium collaborative writing team, you could say this singer appears to have followed his heart while looking to vintage musical heroes.
If the Nilsson-esque weight of debut single Sign of the Times – reminiscent of contractual “soppy singles” tendered by numerous ‘80s/’90s rock acts – confounded some, it did not alienate, topping charts in more than 80 countries on release.
It also hinted at stylistic trajectory. Woman, too, showcases Styles’ superior tonsils in a song mourning betrayed love, the central piano paying homage to Elton John’s Bennie & The Jets. It is a slick, quality ballad, but for an inexplicable, irritating grunting sound.
Ever Since New York offers a more upbeat, yet understated gait, a grumbly guitar again ideally showcasing that voice. Likewise relationship-reminiscent Two Ghosts, in which the plaintive hooks and an easy-going strum centre a tune Grey’s Anatomy producers will surely eye to accompany teary scenes.
Only Angel could have been plucked from the ‘70s. It is a grab-the-mic stand rocker with a handclap/woo-hoo combo chorus lending a vintage, organic flavour to something Faces-era Rod Stewart might have belted out.
By contrast, From the Dining Table is a further fireside confessional, simple six-string heightening vulnerable, surprisingly frank, lyrics. Styles goes “unplugged” again on the endearing Sweet Creature while wading into more derivative waters elsewhere. dreamlike Meet Me in the Hallway is credible but curious as an album opener, while the playful Carolina (another song about a girl) whiffs strongly of Beck.
Kiwi wields a heftier audio punch, and Glitter Band glam riffs a beefy backdrop for Style’s defiant vocal – and is a sure-fire future live favourite.
The album ticks all the “heavyweight solo debut” boxes, but what shines most is a voice seasoned beyond the singer’s 23 years. With the Styles brand (including a debut film role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) already seemingly established, it what comes next – with less third-party creative input – will surely, truly define him as his own artist.