I think it’s safe to say that when we heard that Harry Styles was going to embark on a solo career, many of us did not hold out hope that the music he produced would be much different from the efforts of One Direction – fun but frivolous pop. His predecessors Zayn, Liam and Niall haven’t ventured far from safety, sticking mostly to electronic pop, R&B or acoustic ballads. However, when his self-titled debut studio album was finally released I was pleasantly surprised to hear something quite different and a lot more rock-based. Throughout the 10 tracks, we hear Styles try out a variety of styles with enjoyable results. He offers an homage to rock legends from the past, as well as personal input from his own experiences and style.
The album mostly depicts relationships with women from Styles’ romantic past. It opens with the psychedelic Meet Me in The Hallway, a fitting opener with a chilled-out (and angsty) vibe, warming up the listener and setting the tone for what is to follow. The lead single Sign of The Times appears after this, a Bowie-esque composition that allows Styles to really show off his vocal chops. It also allows Styles to deal with a deeper subject matter than usual, as the song is supposedly coming from the viewpoint of a mother who has lost her child. Tracks six and seven, Kiwi and Only Angel, function as his attempts at rousing rock anthems, complete with clanging guitar and raspy vocals. Both tracks have a pleasantly nostalgic feel, reminiscent of the kind of songs your parents used to listen to. They’re crowd-pleasing, sing-along tracks perfect for touring.
The closing track, From the Dining Table, is full of heartbreak, melancholy, and an unconventional reference to masturbation. Styles is at his most self-deprecating as he yearns for a former lover to return; “I’ve never felt less cool.” He’s clearly trying to make this music personal, and although he doesn’t shed the generic love song mould completely, it’s refreshing to hear Styles show a vulnerability that similar superstars seldom do. The simple, acoustic production helps to further show us his genuine sadness – even Harry Styles gets rejected, people. The person to whom the song is directed isn’t hinted at, which is probably a wise move for someone who often finds their love life under scrutiny.
As a whole, this album succeeds in showing us what Styles can do, pushing through the limits he had in One Direction and branching into various genres of music. Is the sound of the album completely original and ground-breaking? Not exactly. It’s filled with obvious influences from a variety of artists – Bowie, Oasis, Fleetwood Mac and Prince to name a few – but in all honesty, hearing the influence of these renowned artists in mainstream music is certainly not a bad thing, and for the most part Styles succeeds in adding his own voice and ideas into the music. The former boy-band member has done well, and has the potential to create some exciting music in the future.