Perhaps the most anticipated solo release to come out of this decade’s biggest boy band, One Direction, has been Harry Styles’. The time finally has come, and Styles has released an overtly ambitious and self-aware record that confusingly strives to be many things at once.
Harry Styles has a very clear image he wants to project to the world. He is the old soul of One Direction, the stand out lead; the next big pop star. His musical vision is one of vintage guitar grooves and soulful, simple songs, all of which can be heard on his debut, self-titled album. Whether or not he succeeds at it is the question.
Tracks like “Two Ghosts” and “Sweet Creature” are straightforward acoustic songs, reminiscent of some of the more slow and saccharine moments on One Direction’s last two albums. Both these songs have somewhat of a country flair, which flatters Styles’ vocals surprising well. And it is these more stripped down, candid moments that feel the most genuine on the album.
“Only Angel”, perhaps the most memorable track on the record, sounds like a modern twist on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. This bluesy tune best captures the essence of Styles’ image, giving us a glimpse of Harry’s more rock n’ roll side, which wasn’t always present during his time with One Direction. However, the lyrics fall a bit short with questionable, crude lines such as “couldn’t take her home to mother in a skirt that short” and “turns out she’s a devil in between the sheets.”
“Carolina” also succeeds at modernizing vintage bluesy sounds. Yet again, some of its overly simplistic lyrics (“she’s a good girl, she feels so good”) distract from the beauty behind the recording.
Other songs on the album like “Ever Since New York” and “Woman” are confusing and appear unfinished, not knowing where to go melodically or lyrically, grasping tightly to its solid wall of sound, hoping that alone will carry the tune. Listeners are often left dense in the ears, yet empty in thought.
Even lead single “Sign of the Times”, despite its gorgeous arrangements, still suffers from what most of this album is plagued by: vague, repetitive, and redundant lyrics that dance around in circles, not really saying much at all, making the album feel nameless and impersonal.
But the album is not a total disaster, as it is an honest and vulnerable work. Styles’ voice alone is proof of his pop star power. Additionally, the sound and production of this album create the perfect medium of vintage flair with modern sensibility, making this a refreshing note amongst a predominantly electronic pop sphere. Still, Harry Styles feels a bit rushed, pressured by the bandwagon of post-boy band solo releases.
For someone with an image as striking as Harry Styles, this debut fails to establish any real sense of identity. Harry Styles wants the credibility of his idols, but fails to realize that such ethos comes with creative genius, which no meticulously produced ballad can bake instantaneously. It is a classic case of style over substance.
By Patricia Cárdenas