Former One Direction member projects his influences on an impressively expansive self-titled debut.
Ever since the world conquering pop group One Direction announced their hiatus in 2015, rumours about the future of the group circled frenetically, with many believing that the temporary split is actually permanent. In June 2016, it was announced that Harry Styles, the enigmatic singer with his wannabe rockstar look, had signed a record deal for solo material. This week sees the Worcestershire singer finally release the highly anticipated album which as many people thought, is a bold reflection of Styles’ musical influences.
Harry Styles has always been outspoken on his musical influences. A keen rock fan, the announcement of a solo album sparked many rumours that the star would be releasing a harder, rock based record with similarities to bands like The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Nothing portrays Styles’ love for the 1960’s much like track Carolina which tells the story of an irresistible woman. With an infectious almost funk styled “la la la” chorus, the track sounds like it could belong on a Beatles album, such is the straightforward pop rock feel which has injections of electric guitar that adds more spark to its already stunning groove. Lines “How would I tell her that she’s all I think about? / Well, I guess she just found out” interestingly highlight the fact that the subject of the song was unaware that the track was about her until her father brought it to her attention. The choral introduction of Only Angel transports the listener to a different world, hinting a completely distinctive sound before smashing all barriers down with rollicking 70’s rock and roll. The swaggering track is everything that you might expect from the modern day Mick Jagger impresario which sees Styles’ strutting along whilst additional cowbells and vocal touches are reminiscent of The Rolling Stones. Lyrics “Open up your eyes, shut your mouth and see / That I’m still the only one who’s been in love with me” are full of braggadocio and contrast the naughty and nice message of the song. Whilst Only Angel hints at otherworldly music, there’s no doubt whether Sign of the Times carries the theme. The 70’s glam rock of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury are clear on the slow paced pop rock single about avoiding emotion and reality during times of grief and hardship. Lyrics “Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times / Welcome to the final show / Hope you’re wearing your best clothes” hint of death whilst the final ninety seconds impresses the most, tacking sprawling, atmospheric rock and angelic backing vocals to create a powerfully emphatic finale.
Whilst Styles’ artistic influences run wild on the record’s rockier tracks, he retains a more personal and intimate sensation on album opener Meet Me in the Hallway, a calm acoustic track which sees the singer begging for someone who hurt him to return. Haunting vocals lay hushed before speeding up in urgent fashion whilst lyrics “Just let me know, I’ll be at the door, at the door / Hoping you’ll come around” signal a man at breaking point which is backed by line “Give me some morphine” hinting at darker times. The easily approachable Two Ghosts also takes the form of a simple, acoustic guitar track. “We’re just two ghosts swimming in a glass half empty” highlights pessimism from the singer on a track about a relationship in which both people are so enraptured with, that they forget who they used to be. Rumoured to be about Style’s relationship with US pop star Taylor Swift, there are signs that Styles at times wants to retract the fame that his career so far has given him.
Not many people would have expected an album of this diversity but the variety of routes that Styles chooses to take make this record refreshingly delightful. The influence of artists like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash is clearly noticeable in Sweet Creature, a string plucking acoustic track which is lifted with subtle gospel backing vocals. About the difficulties that a young couple face during their relationship, the acoustic folk track translates the belief of true love overcoming all obstacles and it’s a side to Harry Styles that nobody could have predicted. Slow, folkier moments are embedded in Ever Since New York as well, which also sees relaxed guitars being layered upon each other on the sombre track which projects sadness and regret of the distancing of a friendship. The classic folk edge to Sweet Creature and Ever Since New York are beautifully delightful but closing track From The Dining Table is refreshingly modernistic. With delicate vocals and folky guitar, there is a strong essence of Ben Howard on the track whilst line “Comfortable silence is so overrated” signals the longing that Styles has for a past lover. The sombre tone and longing lyrics depict the pain of heartbreak on a deeply personal track for the singer.
The honesty that Styles is capable of portraying in his lyrics is insightful. Various points in the album hint at darker times for the singer, possibly around the time of the One Direction split. A few tracks reference the presence of drugs specifically cocaine which adds a sense of vulnerability to the feel of some of the songs for example Kiwi’s “Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s all backed up” and Meet Me in the Hallway’s morphine dependency.
Releasing a debut album after leaving an emphatic career with a group was always going to be risky and high pressured. It worked for Robbie Williams, who after leaving Take That, embraced his leading showman mentality and it appears to have worked rather perfectly for Styles. The ability of the singer to write distinguished, well-rounded tracks that bridge a variety of genres is startling. There is a uniquely equal division on the record, with half of the tracks projecting Styles’ musical influences and the other half remaining firmly in the present. It’s not the world changing album that some producers had declared but it is a matured and pleasant debut, breaking Styles free from the shackles of his past boy band career.