Harry StylesHarry Styles Label: Columbia Records Released: 05.12.17 Review by Hannah Hines | May 16, 2017 at 4:00 PM
“We don’t talk enough / We should open up
Before it’s all too much / Will we ever learn?”
Sonically, it’s like walking into a vintage thrift shop. It’s a bit overwhelming and chaotic at first, but the beauty is that the pieces allow for an exploration of identity through the styles of the past. At times you feel like you’re just playing dress up, but if you fully embrace it you can make it your own. The songs invite you to try out the plaid jackets, old pianos, heeled boots, romantic comedies on VHS tapes, or yellow velvet pants for yourself—it’s familiar but fresh and most importantly authentic.
All metaphors aside, Harry Styles’ debut album is a vulnerable modern narrative contrasted by sounds of the 70s / 80s, ranging from sensual soft to full glam. Back in the era of One Direction, Harry was the most mysterious to me. He was handed a mike day after day—either on stage or off—but he said so little. Instead Harry expressed himself through his fashion, his tattoos, his live performance, and the occasional out of context tweet. Now, barebacked and soaked on his self-titled album artwork, Harry is opening up to the world blushing pink but more confident than ever.
It’s hard to imagine the pressure on Harry going solo from one of the biggest boy bands in the world. With Niall and Zayn already having released music individually you might expect that there is a lot to prove. In this context, it is almost a relief that Styles’ self-titled album starts off slow and melancholy with “Meet Me In The Hallway”. The first single “Sign Of The Times” is basically a rebellion to radio play, clocking in at over 5 minutes and ruining the flow of any DJ set with its somber piano and apocalyptic tone. Some may mistake the obvious influence from greats like Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, Queen, Beck, Elton John and others as a “rip off,” but it’s more like he learned from the masters in order to create something Styles himself enjoys. Working with Grammy Award winning producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, fun.) really allowed Styles to be paint with a variety of colors and textures but still turn out a masterpiece with his first endeavour.
As if it’s being played on dusty vinyl, “Carolina” is a swinging rhythmic jam showing that Harry can use his vocals to make even the most repetitive lines (“She’s a good girl”) stay lively. “Two Ghosts” is one of the most intimate tracks on the record. Between poetic lyrics like “We’re not who we used to be / We’re just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me / Trying to remember how it feels to have a heartbeat” and the slide style guitar playing you’ll feel like you’re in the balmy Jamaican studio where all the magic happened. The standout arena-filling tracks are the one-two punch of space rock “Only Angel” and guitar heavy “Kiwi”. On the latter, Harry reaches rockstar status. Not just by being slightly smutty in lines like “Hard candy dripping on me ’til my feet are wet”, backdropped against ragging riffs, but by owning each word—sometimes even yelling in angst. Suddenly you can picture why Harry’s first tour deserve to be in venues with GA sections; crowds might need to open up a mosh pit. Ballads are strewn throughout the 40 minutes but “From The Dining Table” gets the final word, “Comfortable silence is so overrated, Why won’t you ever say what you want to say?” appropriately closes out a piece of music that seems largely sparked by old flames.
Harry Styles is a deeply introspective glimpse into the life of someone who has lived many lives in just 23 years. The group effort of Harry’s live band, producers, and co-writers allows the dreams of one creative individual to masterfully be made a reality. In this way, the record is not just something to listen to but maybe something to believe in. If you read between the lines and hear between the notes there’s a message: Give yourself freedom—to create, to love, to write, to own your experiences, to depart from your past and embrace your future, to turn the ordinary into art.
Buy it, Stream it, or Skip it: Buy it, just like the best thrift shopping, it’ll make you look good.