12 May 2017 (released)
12 May 2017
The pressure was high for Harry Styles. Often seen as the fan favourite, his debut single Sign Of The Times was both applauded and criticised by his One Direction fanbase. While many had anticipated he would take a more direct pop route, or even emulated the subtle singer/songwriter leanings of his former bandmate Niall Horan, Harry returned with a single that had a clear musical influence of the late great David Bowie, married to the credi-pop drive of Lana Del Rey and the fraught songwriter edge of Ryan Adams. As it topped the charts in the UK, the press tore him to pieces for not attaining the sales of his other former bandmate, the breakout R'n'B star ZAYN. With all eyes and ears attentive to his next move, his inspired performance on Saturday Night Live peaked interest in his eponymous debut album, which has finally arrived.
Harry Styles is a man of substance and style. His debut collection not only negates the need to classify him as a former boyband member, but it actually offers greater insight into his creative path than the releases from any of his former colleagues. While it is not necessarily the release many had anticipated, given that the Bowie drive of his epic debut single is shown on that one track, it does demonstrate that Harry Styles is not a vanity project of an already famous vocalist, but rather a passion project from someone who is wanting to alter perceptions.
Most interestingly the sound presented is an interesting marriage of 90s Britpop, alt-country and rock. With echoes of Shed Seven, Sheryl Crow and Ryan Adams the most evident throughout the release, Harry boasts the vocals, intrigue and looks to make him one of the most exciting artists working the circuit currently.
Album opener Meet Me In The Hallway sets the tone perfectly. An understated, emotionally delivered ballad that relies more on a compelling vocal than production, Harry does not need to ask his listener to pay him attention as they are naturally intrigued. The sensational Sign Of The Times is a beautiful contrast as it follows, boasting a dramatic flair that punches you right in your very core.
The funk drive of Carolina would have fitted easily in a collection by Fitz and The Tantrums or even a more recent Hanson record, but it works just as well for Harry. While the addictive chorus gets your hips shaking, the louche approach to the vocal, gives this a British edge to what would have otherwise been a very American sound. Be warned, if this gets a single release, it will be one that stays on the radio for many, many weeks.
Two Ghosts is Ned Roberts meeting Merle Haggard and John Lennon and nobody could turn down that combination. The lush Sweet Creature was an obvious choice to have been unveiled as an album teaser. Soft, sincere and so so so beautiful, this is real melt your heart terrain.
Only Angel brings the theatrics to the fore once again. An explosive Rolling Stones driven anthem, this will have your head banging as you sing along with all your heart and soul. This will be a real winner on Harry's upcoming tour. Retaining the rock element, a little ZZ Top edges into Harry's subconscious as he riots through the irrepressible shout-along Kiwi.
Having hit you hard and fast, Harry's sensitive side pulls at your heart strings as he delivers a cut almost as lush as Sweet Creature on the touching Ever Since New York. The stomp of Woman channels the raw crooner in Harry before making way for the introverted insight of the tender From The Dining Table.
As he takes his listener on a real journey throughout the album's 10 tracks, Harry shows his a diverse, intelligent, articulate and interesting recording artist. This is a stunning body of work from an artist who deserves acclaim as well as commercial success. Move over Ed, a much more interesting artist is about to claim the airwaves from you.