Harry Styles, Harry Styles | Album Review
Harry Styles delivers a successful, enjoyable debut album with his highly anticipated, self-titled effort.
Every boy band has a star. While One Direction was so popular that all five of its members had their fair share of buzz, Harry Styles seemed to be the chosen one. Styles becomes just the second member of One Direction to release a solo album, simply titled Harry Styles. He follows former member Zayn (Mind of Mine), who sought to contrast his image and sound with the script established by the band. As for Styles, he embraces a pop/rock sound, clearly different than most young pop artists in recent times.
“Sign of the Times”
“Meet Me in the Hallway” kicks off the album intensely. Styles’ vocals are drenched in reverb, giving them a wide, mysterious sound. This is the first hint of classic rock/pop sensibilities – “Meet Me in the Hallways” sounds nothing like contemporary pop. Lyrically, there are few lyrics on the verses. Even so, he conveys his point – he wants her to want him to stay as opposed to leaving. Maybe we’ll work it out. Interesting start to say the least. Not a hit per se, but unique.
On “Sign of the Times,” Styles impresses with his vocal tone, which is perfectly suited for this rock-pop ballad. As the song progresses, he lets loose, showing great vocal ability, checking off all boxes. Although ambitious at nearly six minutes, “Sign of the Times” is beautiful, conveying a serious message. The first verse tackles morbidity, while the second reflects on the ascent to heaven, transcending earthly pain. On the bridge, Styles places emphasis on the importance of openness as opposed to the devastation of covertness. On the golden chorus, there’s a sense of reaching heaven – escaping the times:
“Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times / We gotta get away from here…/ Just stop your crying, it’ll be alright / They told me that the end is near / We gotta get away from here.”
“Carolina” embraces a folk-pop sound, driven by its rhythmic guitar. Something positive about the record is its groove, which gives Harry Styles more fun. The use of strings is also a pro. The harmonic progression and energy shine on the chorus:
“She’s a good girl (la…) / She’s such a good girl (la…) / She’s a good girl (la…) / She feels so good (woo, oh yeah) / She feels so good (woo, oh yeah).”
At its most literal, Styles is singing about a girl. But, as many of the Geniuses cite, drug references potentially expand the scope.
“Two Ghosts” is well-rounded, with a moderate tempo and respectable vocals. The chorus is simple, once more, but sufficient.
“We’re not who we used to be… / We’re just two ghost standing in the place of you and me/ We’re not who we used to be…/ We’re just two ghosts swimming in a glass half empty.”
Once more, acoustic rhythm guitars dominate the production. Good vibes, by all means.
“Sweet Creature” clearly has a throwback quality, resembling the folk music from the 60s and 70s. The rhythmic guitar lines sound tried-and-true, despite the fact “Sweet Creature” is a new song. Ultimately, he successfully channels the past, delivering a balanced vocal performance. It’s imperfect, however, sometimes coming off too static. Because of its stripped, acoustic nature, there’s less room for error and a lower ceiling. He adds a hint of excitement, but “Sweet Creature” doesn’t possess the same potency as, say, “Sign of the Times.”
“Only Angel” begins angelically, before establishing itself as a gritty, hard-rocking record. Even though “Only Angel” is traditional rock at its core, it sounds refreshing because we rarely hear this sound any more. Cleverly, Styles references an earlier song lyrically during the second verse:
“End up meeting in the hallway every single time.”
Styles keeps things high-flying on “Kiwi,” where he’s aggressive and energetic as ever. Simply put, he’s on autopilot, singing ferocious line after ferocious line. On the chorus, he kills it:
“She’s driving me crazy, but I’m into it, but I’m into it / I’m kinda into it / It’s getting crazy, I think I’m losing it, I think I’m losing it / I think she said ‘I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business.’”
“Ever Since New York”
After two raucous numbers in “Only Angel” and “Kiwi,” Styles settles things down on the reflective “Ever Since New York.” The vocal production on the chorus is absolutely stunning – smooth as silk (“Oh, tell me something I don’t already know”). Lyrically, there are some truly thoughtful, poetic moments, including the second verse:
“Brooklyn saw me, empty at the news / There’s no water inside this swimming pool / Almost over, had enough from you / And I’ve been praying, I never did before / Understand I’m talking to the walls / I’ve been praying ever since New York.”
Clearly, whatever went down in New York has affected Styles deeply. The result is one of the best songs of his debut album.
Penultimate record “Woman” blends classic rock, pop and soul together. Like much of Harry Styles, this sounds like it could’ve potentially been a hit in the 1970s. Vocally, Styles continues to impress as he can’t bear the thought of her being with another man. “From the Dining Table” concludes the album radiantly, finding Styles showing an incredible amount of poise and subtlety.
All in all, Harry Styles delivers on his self-titled debut. It isn’t perfect, but in many ways, it’s more distinct than his work with One Direction. That is to be expected though – this is a solo album. Does he play too much into the traditional, vintage sound at times? Yes. Perhaps there could be even more variation, but for the most part, this feels like his lane. Successful debut without question.
Gems: “Sign of the Times,” “Carolina,” “Only Angel,” “Ever Since New York” & “Woman”