Throughout history, all good ‘boy bands’ had to come to an end to give us something even sweeter… solo careers. From The Beatles to *Nsync, former One Direction star Harry Styles has finally joined the likes of those whose initial claim to fame might have been in a group, but sought after finding their own unique sound. Seems to us, Styles had little problem finding his own niche while in the beautiful Caribbean. He isn’t the first artist to shed their former image (or sound) that once defined them… though Styles does join the ranks of those who have had such a dramatic and unpredictable change. Is it a success? We definitely think so. He has ventured far from the path set by those in the past (Justin Timberlake to Harry’s own former bandmate Zayn Malik are only some of the few who turned to embrace hip-hop and r&b in their solo careers) and instead has made one thing clear: he is setting out to be a rock star. And not just any rock star. One that can hold a match to those your mother and father grew up adoring… hell, maybe even one worthy of your grandfather’s praise, too!
Promotion leading up to Styles’ debut release may have seemed a little lackluster, without the fanfare you’d expect from such an already successful and established musician. It is as though Styles’ team knew an almost silent release would work out more in his favor, in presenting a new persona for the boyband refugee. The strategy proved itself a success, with nothing short of overwhelming in regards to how his solo music has been received by fans. His world tour – Harry Styles Live – sold out globally within minutes across the 32 cities he’ll be performing in. Just earlier this week, Styles performed on the Today morning show, looking awfully sharp in his pink suit (where he surprised the fans with One Direction’s own “Stockholm Syndrome” – a song that the band never had the chance to perform, a special treat for both fans and Styles alike) as he premiered another new track titled “Carolina,” a southern rock sounding love-song about trying to find the perfect way to tell a girl she’s all you think about.
With the three pre-released tracks, one would assume Styles had plenty of inspiration from his belles for the album, which he recorded over the span of a year, including a stint of time where he seemingly dropped off the face of the planet after filming for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk but was actually soaking up the Caribbean sun in a luxurious Jamaican studio. Styles joked in a recent French Quotidien interview that the album as a whole is more about himself than any other particular person – lovers or not. This sentiment definitely fooled us – when you listen to the album, it’s impossible not to pick up the influences from any possible muse and past real-life relationships. With genius producer/writer Jeff Bhasker (who has worked in the past with Kanye West, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones just to name a few) and collaborations including Bhasker associate, Tyler Johnson who was part of the team behind P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason” and fun.’s Some Nights as well as helping engineer songs for The All-American Rejects, Ed Sheeran and Miley Cyrus. Also included was Snow Patrol’s own Johnny McDaid, who had said Harry’s solo music would “surprise” everyone… we cannot think of a better way to sum up our initial listen.
From the opening track titled, “Meet Me In the Hallway,” Styles’ self-titled solo debut begins with Styles’ counting down, giving an immediate intimate feel. If you chose to close your eyes, his vocals come in soft and almost haunting with a slight echo that makes it all too easy to envision you’re sitting in on a studio session as he performs his tunes versus simply listening to the .mp3 version. From the first track alone, you can tell Styles’ aim is to not be defined by the tracks he was once known for. “Meet Me In The Hallway” begins with chords sounding as though they’re plucked with loose strings, bass lines on a stand-up bass as Styles’ voice echoes in through the first verses until his strength is shown in the chorus. This vintage/folk sound only compliment Styles’ unique, hollowing vocals, showing his talents beyond today’s norm and certainly what any of his former bandmates have – or will – release.
“Carolina” starts off bass heavy too, with a fun beat, clapping and chants that take us back to some of our most beloved classic rock hits. How can you not listen to this track and not envision a girl in bell bottom corduroys, dancing around to this on her 45? This song may be 50 years out of place, but we absolutely love it! There’s nothing lacking from this 3-minute hit: from the maraca shaker, the ‘oh yeah’s, the acoustics leading up to percussion, a symphony of beautiful strings shining through the second verse, the la-la-la’s… and is that a cowbell we hear? Definitely makes us want to scream and shout it out.
“Two Ghosts” is a soft and slow anti-love ballad, unlike the ballads you’re more familiar with. There is no animosity in the lyrics about two souls who have loved and lost. Instead, Harry relates the feeling as ghosts trying to remember the feel of a beating heart accompanied by a slide guitar that could be compared to something you’d expect from Ryan Adams. It is followed directly by the tender “Sweet Creature” which is still slow, but a much stronger ballad that seems as Styles’ own stab at something “Blackbird”-esque while dripping with love and affection, the song revolving around the notion that once you’ve fallen in love, home is wherever you two are together.
Things pick up with “Only Angel,” which gives the feel of a band closing out a rowdy show at some overly-packed bar. Styles’ vocals are heard a bit louder, with a bit more of a grunge-punch and the return of a cowbell! The album grows from an exhausted and exasperated-sounded Styles to symbols of naughty debauchery – “Only Angel,” “From The Dining Table,” and even “Kiwi” which lyrics seem sleazy in an almost amusingly-unconvincing nature. We can forgive the aforementioned because it is followed by a convincing alt-country troubadour “Ever Since New York,” which ranks as one of our top favorites from the entire album.
The album leaves little left to be desired, the closing track “From The Dining Table,” starts off with a soft-spoken Styles, who again manages to make it sound as though he could be singing this while side-by-side in bed with you and you alone. The very much talked about lyrics paint a picture of a horny and lonely 23-year old, who has a wank before getting wasted and passing out. “I’ve never felt less cool,” he admits through personal lyrics, leaving us to believe this song is less for attention and complaints but more of a confession, right from the heart. The song puts an end to the album the same soft way you’d lay down a lover – on a note of promising possibilities for a sophomore release.
The entire record sounds as though it came into this world a couple eras too late, but at the exact time we needed it. In a world with overly-saturated pop beats and music relied upon by Garageband noise, Styles’ self-titled debut is a breath of fresh air, resisting the norm of the current contemporary pop aesthetic. Instead of using samples music from decades ago, Harry seems to have gained inspiration from back when music was undoubtedly great. Making songs that can proudly be displayed alongside the rock and blues from a time close to being lost. With all the debates of Harry trying too hard to mimic icons and legends such as David Bowie, Prince, The Beatles and more… you’d be surprised to find the songs relating more closely to the works of Don Henley, specifically The Eagles, Wolfmother, Arctic Monkeys and even a little Elton John. There is no debating that these collections of songs are ones we’re certain anyone would be proud to hear they helped inspire in one way or another. This isn’t to say the album is flawless – as you’d expect with anyone’s solo debut, there are awkward moments (did we mention the unconvincing lines about one-night stands and masturbation?), and it is obvious Styles is an artist trying to find his footing… but these mishaps hardly distract from the ambitious and admirable debut. There are few bells and whistles, which would have no place beside Styles’ talents in his honest songwriting alongside the beautifully simplistic twang of his (mostly acoustic) guitars.
Whether you were a fan of One Direction or never heard a single one of their hits, whether you’re 15 or 50 – we’re willing to guarantee you’ll find a track or two you fall in love with on Styles’ debut solo album. There is just enough diversity in the 10 tracks to really have something to appeal to everyone, without losing a solid cohesion for the entirety of the record. You can hear traces of intimate singer/songwriter aspects known and loved from the 1960s and ‘70s and even hints of flamboyant dramatics (dare we say hair bands?) from the 1980s. The tracks aren’t what you’d expect (or are they exactly what you expected from Harry Styles himself?) after the music put out by the former boyband, though we’re happy to see and hear the musical freedom Harry has with both the sound and lyrics of his new endeavors. You’ll find hints and traces of love, loss, sex, drugs and of course rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an exploration of an artist out there trying to find himself and we cannot wait for what is still to come.
Our favorite picks: “Ever Since New York,” “Sweet Creature” and “From The Dining Table.”