The year is 1969 and man has set their first steps on the moon. The world is, for the first time, universally optimistic about what the future holds. The sky is no longer the limit. With planing already beginning for the next voyage, with an assault on Mars seeming mere years away, people are beginning to imagine how life would transpire if humans were to begin calling other planets home. In England, one man was so inspired by space travel that he had decided to give the world his individual view of what would occur beyond the tiny warm glow of earth. This man’s name was David Bowie and his self-titled work would go on to be one of the best selling and critically acclaimed albums of the decade, with the single Space Oddity becoming arguably the biggest hit in his career.
Skip forward forty or so years and you arrive in 2017, into a world of polarising differences between expectation and reality. The moon has not been stepped on since 1972 and rather than the world being united in their mission to explore new horizons, fear and anger have become the order the day. The world is a lot smaller than it seemed in 1969. However, Harry Styles, of One Direction super-stardom, has gone back to a time of rock and roll to deliver an album that could not be further than the work of his boy-band beginnings, yet an album that brings the feelings of 1969 back to the fore. From the opening track, Meet Me In The Hallway, he wears his influences on his sleeve to deliver as confident and as defiantly British album as is possible. With Lyrics relating to the worlds political outlook (Sign Of The Times), adoration (Sweet Creature) and losing oneself in a relationship (Two Ghosts), Styles swaps sound from acoustic balladry in the aforementioned Sweet Creatures to the filthy, distorted rock of Kiwi. The contrast in inspiration from one song to the next keeps the album interesting and invigorating over the course of its forty minute running time, leaving few skip-able tracks (apart from Only Angel, which is largely due to the idiotic choice to place the a cow-bell so high in the mix). There’s no hiding the flashes of Bowie (Woman), Paul Simon (Sweet Creature) and Mick Jagger (Carolina) being reflected throughout the album, and this can at times leave listeners wondering whether Styles is capable of creating his own distinct sound that will be recognised in future generations, similar to his idols, however this is an issue for another day. This is a step in the right direction.
While not an overtly personal album, with very little actually revealed about Styles himself, you do get the sense that this is the music Styles always wanted to make, music with more instrumentation than the typical four-chords that largely dictated One Directions modern pop music. At this moment in time, all five members of One Direction have released at least one single and Styles has definitely taken the lead when it comes to music of interest, with all others not straying very far from the realm of EDM produced club hits. While this album has very few singles that you’ll hear in the club or that will dominate the charts, this has the potential to become the soundtrack to many a teenage road trip. While the current political turbulence shows no signs of ceasing, this album offers listeners a chance to delve back into the music of slightly simpler times. The fact that it’s Harry Styles really is a sign of the times.