Harry Styles — Reviewed.
SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM: no, not really
SONGS WORTH A LISTEN: Sign of the Times, that’s it to be honest.
The hype for this album was real. Harry Styles, probably at least 60% of people’s favourite member of One Direction, is finally solo, and he’s written an album with a pink cover. He’s cut his hair, and is performing in a pink suit. He’s done all the right things to disconnect himself with the boy band that made him famous. All the right things, that is, except make a good album.
Harry Styles is a 10-song album, which was a very good start. 10 songs is a great length for an album, and I think that many albums which are, say, 14 songs long, would do well to cut down to 10. So, when I started listening, I was in a good mood. This guy knows how to do aesthetics, and he made an album which is the right length.
So I started listening. You can tell from this album that Harry Styles the solo artist is way different to One Direction, and his influences come from a very different place. This album is influenced by classic British rock, the kind that my dad used to play in the car, and the kind that I’m sure young Harry was brought up on. He’s set out to make a grand album in the style of Queen, Bowie, and even with a little Fleetwood Mac, with big sounds and some slower, acoustic songs with a lot of reverb (like the opening track, ‘Meet Me in the Hallway’). This is an album with big aspirations, and I respect that. Where Zayn (sorry, “ZAYN”) is singing generic sounding R&B, and Niall is doing the same sort of thing he did in One Direction, Harry is bringing an album that honestly doesn’t sound like anything that charts this decade.
It’s a bold, ambitious album, but it doesn’t really work for me. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first and probably most important is that Harry is not a great singer. He’s performing music inspired by some of the greatest vocalists ever, but he doesn’t quite have the vocal chops to carry it off. Especially since the production of the album is so stripped back, the flaws in his singing can’t hide in this album, and it hurts the quality of it. It isn’t surprising that Harry’s singing isn’t great: he couldn’t get into the judge’s house part of X Factor as a solo artist, and he has done much of his singing in ultra-produced boy band songs, coasting along mainly on looks (I never saw it, but many others did). What is surprising is that he, and presumably a bunch of label execs, decided do go down the route they did with this album, knowing full well what his strengths and weaknesses are.
The second issue is that the songs aren’t that good. They’re structured in a very weird way, and the instrumentals sound super strange. I don’t know if that’s just my modern, hip-hop influenced listening tastes talking, but to me even the bits where Harry isn’t singing sound kind of off. Most of the songs were very difficult to listen to for me, with the exception only of the Bowie-esque ‘Sign of the Times’, which is a solid, if not amazing, track.
The album is not great, and there are a lot of better options for a listen in this vein. If you want classic rock, listen to classic rock. Queen’s b-sides are better than this, as are David Bowie’s, and Elton John’s. You can even listen to their best of albums which are just amazing, and well worth a revisit if you haven’t recently. If you want classic-inspired music with modern inflections, listen to Rex Orange County’s Apricot Princess, which is so much better, and is also only 10 songs long. Haim is also back with some really interesting new tracks, so you just have so many better things you can listen to instead of this one. I’m always tweeting about new music, so follow me on twitter if you need some more recommendations.
10/10 for effort, Harry, but I don’t really like this album all that much.
Let me know what you thought on twitter (@reallyreillyh). Was I wrong? What did you think? Hit me up and let’s chat.