REVIEW: Harry Styles
WORDS BY BELLA WIGGS
The full album release of Harry Styles, the eponymous solo debut of former One Direction front man delivers, what I think, we ought to have expected. Probably…
It was on one of those miserable, rainy nights we were having in April that I heard ‘A Sign of the Times’, the album’s first single, for the first time. Seated in the back of my friend’s car, driving down King Street, I guessed she had the radio on WSFM, and that this song was a 70's ballad I had just never heard.
“Oh my god, you know this is Harry Styles’ new single?!” She chuckled as she turned the volume down. Shook.
No, I did not know this was Harry “baby you light up my world like nobody else” Styles’ new single. Nor would I have guessed it in a month of Sundays. It sounded like Elton John, Prince, Queen, The Verve, Oasis, like Bowie. The opening line, “just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times, welcome to the final show, hope you’re wearing your best clothes” could have fit in Hunky Dory. Well, almost. Where it definitely could have fit was in the ‘Harry’ tracks of One Direction’s Midnight Memories, their second last album as a five-piece. ‘Happily’, ‘Through the Dark’, ‘Midnight Memories’, all alluded to what would become Harry’s sound.
The rest of the album was released yesterday, and it’s good.
The first good thing about this album is it’s judicious track listing – it’s not one you should put on shuffle. It starts with the very Radio Head, New Order, maybe even Joy Division, ‘Meet me in the Hallway’. It’s got that ecclesiastic thing you get lost in going for it too. Very Jeff Buckley – compare the opening “2,3,4” (so legit) less with Ed Sheeran’s ‘Kiss Me’, and maybe more with the non-lexical “huh” at the opening of Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’.
This continues with ‘Sign of the Times’, before we get the rockabilly meets T.Rex ‘Carolina’. It’s also got nods to Electric Light Orchestra and Wolfmother that the next track ‘Two Ghosts’ doesn’t, though it continues down that country, rocky vein, before we get to ‘Sweet Creature’. This is straight off The White Album. Also hints to The Jam, I’m thinking ‘English Rose’, and maybe some folky British singer-songwriter à la early Benjamin Francis Leftwich. I feel like I’m passing through the English countryside listening to this, it’s amazing. I’m smiling, it’s the best song off the album by far, and I think does the most for Styles’ voice.
We get back to the glam rock thing with ‘Only Angel’, which makes you wonder if Styles’ really does think he’s the next Jagger, because this is so Stones, as is the next track ‘Kiwi’, though this one is more bubble-gum-hard-rock, echoing Deep Purple and Def Leppard. Next is ‘Ever Since New York’, which is slower, softer, another ballad. It’s kinda Ed Sheeran, more Mumford and Sons again, with another gospel-like chorus, which as I’ve said, is what seems to make the most sense for Styles.
‘Woman’, the album’s penultimate track, is where I think there was a chance for a multi-part rock opera manifest on this album, if there even was one. I was sort of looking for it somewhere, especially here because it reminded me a bit of The Who, and especially because the songs on this record are often so long. But it didn’t really go anywhere. The album closes with ‘From the Dining Table’, a lament much like the first two tracks, so full marks for circularity. This one’s a bit Elliott Smith, both stylistically and in terms of subject matter, which is cool. It’s also a bit Jet?
So, I don’t know why I kept trying to decide who Styles sounded like, maybe it’s because I thought I already knew based off his band work, and that has now changed, and it’s unsettling. But in ultimately failing to definitively answer, “who does this sound like?”, my frustration made me realise that it just sounds like him. That this is his sound. And the sound is amazing, albeit self-conscious and a bit manufactured, perhaps. But I don’t think you can get angry over someone so obviously nodding to artists that have inspired them – people do it all the time, and more importantly, it doesn’t sound like Harry is trying to be played. You can usually tell when an artist is, and that’s generally a more worthy cause for concern. You won’t be hearing remixes of this stuff in any clubs. It’s not ‘Galway Girl’.
This album is a lament, a love letter, and so different to 1D. For a first album, it’s good, but it’s not stopping traffic. I probably wouldn’t put it in-between Jeff Buckley’s Grace (despite the amount of times I’ve already compared it to it) or Pearl Jam’s 10, but, I think it does make certain that Harry will do an MJ, that is, find more success in his solo career than he ever did with One Direction. Though as I’m writing this, I feel like it’s a big call. But it is good! In many ways it’s so good that you wish it wasn’t Harry Styles’, so that someone else could have a go, or maybe just so people without a pre-existing aversion to One Direction could take it seriously. Or maybe just so that I could listen to it for the umpteenth time this weekend, without being subjected to the my brothers’ ridicule.
No doubt it will be hard for Harry to really convince us he’s done it. That he’s evolved from “shot me out of the sky, you're my kryptonite” to "we're just two ghosts swimming in a glass half-empty, trying to remember how it feels to have a heartbeat” (though, that’s got to be a bit ‘Wish You Were Here’.) The biggest, and hardest, thing to get past here, is the credentials of the artist. But once you have, as you should, the album is good. Maybe he’ll have to do it again, whether that’s with another album, or just another few good singles, to really prove that he is the JT. But frankly, I think we knew that anyway. I’m now even more upset that I didn’t get tickets to see him perform at the Enmore, because it’s going to be great.