So here it is, the album every One Direction fan has been breathlessly waiting for and the album that everyone else has been kinda interested in, y’know, just to see if the charismatic kid with the good hair and the famous girlfriends is any cop solo. The fans will of course be over the moon with this collection of radio-friendly rockers and heartstring tugging balladry, and everyone else? Well, they’ll be pleasantly surprised – if not a little taken aback at just how many tricks he’s pinched from other artists.
To his credit, instead of taking the obvious route, in which Harry Styles became a post-Take That Robbie Williams, all silly gurns and stadium weepies, Harry and his co-writers have instead been looking to the masters of 1970s and 80s classic rock. They’ve fused the sophisticated penmanship of Los Angeles storyteller Warren Zevon to Motley Crew’s Sunset Strip swagger, throwing in some Eagles and Elton John for good measure. ‘Harry Styles’ is not, by any measure, an album that sounds like 2017 – One Direction’s fans have grown up, and wisely, Harry’s music has too.
Opener ‘Meet Me In The Hallway’ is willfully lowkey, pitching Harry as a windswept, lovesick LA troubadour, hurtling through Hollywood cooing “I just left your bedroom/Give me some morphine” over twanging guitars. The subtle ‘Two Ghosts’ offers up a country-indebted Laurel Canyon sound, as does ‘Sweet Creature’, which could have as easily have been written about Joni Mitchell as much as his ex Taylor Swift. ‘From The Dining Table’ is as intimate as anything on Bon Iver’s first album, too.
But on the flip side of these delicate tunes come big, crashing rock anthems. ‘Only Angel’ has choir, cowbell and all the shamelessness of ZZ Top. “Couldn’t take you home to mother in a skirt that short,” sings Harry of a woman who’s a “devil between the sheets”. ‘Kiwi’ is even more debauched, its Aerosmith stomp punctuated with a giant sniff and the line “her nose is always backed up”. Meanwhile ‘Carolina’, strangely and brilliantly, sounds like mid-1990s Sheryl Crow. Taking inspiration from the best seems to have paid dividends, but it doesn’t half make you wonder what the real Harry Styles sounds like.