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I will say I am surprised by this record.

In general, it's a committed effort with some strong mixing and nuances in tracks. There is some well-designed choruses and studied outro techniques on songs. I am impressed by either Styles or his engineers especially in crafting successful bridges. “Sweet Creature” does a good effort on an early Ryan Adamsesque arrangement. “A Seat at the Dinner Table” I will agree is a standout. A highly produced, but nonetheless quiet ballad. To me, the clearest influence is Donovan, who seemed to successfully tip toe, with more handled pop folk rock records than counterparts such as Nick Drake, John Phillips, and Neil Young.

The problem I find with this record is it isn't quite sharp enough for me to simply be distracted from thinking about its influences, but conversely, isn't embracing its new perspective on a previous sound or engaging via content. It's an un-admitting simulacrum of its influences. As Father John Misty tackles the importance of 70s influences with a contemporary reconsideration of their relevance (and unavoidable postmodern perspective), this record is still trying to be slick without acknowledgment of irony. And with that the nuances of say Elton Johns “Tumbleweed Connection” Harry Nilsson's “Nilsson Schmillson” which similarly examined pop tropes and delved into such relationships with a nuanced perspective, Styles seems to simply idolize the songs of those artists, and undersell his inspirations or the reasons such a sound was pertinent to the perspectives of the artist.

Styles would do well to admit his context and character whatever it might be, and use the strengths of his voice and arrangements to convey those intrigues. If it is the desire to objectively simply be like his idols, Jagger and Elton are good teachers in playing up or sensationalizing their take on a past sound, that admits borrowing maybe shallowly, but in turn makes their own sound unique. If the goal is to craft unique narratives in the singer-songwriter vein a more studied approach would be beneficial, and one a little less self-aggrandizing.

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