When I went on a break from Victim of Sound earlier this year, I didn’t expect that the first piece I wrote when I returned would be about Harry Styles. In fact, I wouldn’t have ever expected to be sitting here listening to a Harry Styles album – and enjoying it – but here I am. Life is just full of surprises.
“Sign of the Times” was the first song I heard, and to be honest it wasn’t exactly with good intentions. I saw someone in the music industry post favourably about Styles’ solo work on Facebook and then the tirade of comments agreeing; and rather cynically of me I thought “oh come on, you all just don’t want to disagree and have an opinion of your own.” I listened to prove myself right – but instead I proved myself wrong – and there is no shame in that. Of course, I had to listen to the whole album to see if it was just a fluke, and from there I felt a strong need to write about it – and here we are.
Good news – it’s not a fluke. It is not uncommon for a member of a boy band to break out on their own and try to carve themselves a nice solo career. I think it is just expected that this will happen. For some this can be a difficult and awkward transition, and while Harry Styles at times can scream “take me seriously!” a little too loud, that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a solid record from a guy who once sang something about someone being beautiful, and now could fit nicely among early ’70s rockers.
Styles tests the waters across a variety of genres, but never loses direction (except for that other one…). “Carolina” is full of Beatles’ swagger, “Kiwi” sees him dabble in raunchy glam rock, and “Only Angel” has a bit of a blues/country feel to it. While there is nothing particularly wrong with any of these tracks, he really is at his best when he doesn’t try as hard. Styles hits the nail on the head with “Sign of the Times” – an anthemic classic ballad track. He sounds his best when he strips it back and adopts a more vulnerable approach (From the Dining Table, Sweet Creature, Ever Since New York). Overall the album has a classic soft rock/Britpop vibe with a handful of different genres sprinkled throughout.
As far as solo albums after leaving a boy band go, Harry Styles has done pretty well for himself without falling into the similar traps his predecessors did. Harry Styles has experimentation written all over it, but he clearly went in knowing what he wanted and wasn’t going to deviate from that. You can hear many influences from ’70s rockers throughout, but occasionally you hear authentic Styles (Meet Me in the Hallway, From the Dining Table) and the potential comes across loud and clear.
It is not a perfect album. Styles tries on perhaps too many musical hats, and at times the lyrics are a little bit too clichè – but where we had the time and space to awkwardly try to fit in, trying on different personas to discover who we really were – Styles spent his formative years basically in a box on display. It is fair to forgive him for wanting to try on a few different musical guises in a time where he can finally discover who he really is.
There are a few tracks that show a more authentic Styles, where we don’t automatically have visions of artists gone by – and as he works at finding his footing in this new journey – it is a formidable start. Many may be quick to dismiss the album on the grounds of not being a fan of One Direction, but I do hope people are at least willing to give it a go. Styles has moved on, and if he continues down this path, it won’t be long before he finds his true voice.