A A few weeks ago, Harry Styles announced his US tour dates. They’ve come up with the kind of itinerary you can’t help but rave about: multiple shows in massive venues, including 10 jaw-dropping nights at Madison Square Garden. It’s not just that Styles has edged out his fellow former One Direction members in terms of popularity, though he clearly has: spare a thought for little Niall Horan peddling his mother-friendly MOR, the lukewarm indie rock of Louis Tomlinson and, indeed, the lascivious pop-R&B of Liam Payne and Zayn Malik, who titled his latest album Nobody Is Listening, a title that eerily predicted his commercial response. It’s that he seems to have pulled off one of pop’s toughest tricks – transitioning from fabricated, scream-inducing teen idol to more mature entertainer – more effectively than anyone since Justin Timberlake, attracting no sly sniffles that stuck with even his most well-known ancestors.
Months before its release, there were people online who were seriously unraveling the ties between his forthcoming third album Harry’s House and the work of Joni Mitchell. At the end of March, the real Joni Mitchell – who is by no means one of the big losers in rock history – joined us. That didn’t happen when Robbie Williams released Sing When You’re Winning. Harry’s House debut single As It Was was adorned with hosannahs despite the fact that, to a layman at least, it didn’t sound all that different from Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits. A little more upbeat, perhaps, a little more indebted to the sound of American alternative rock, but both offered sagas of amorous hedonism and music audibly modeled on 80s pop through The Weeknd’s Blinding. Lights: while Sheeran borrowed from Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, Styles, like The Weeknd, borrowed from a-ha’s Take on Me. Suffice to say, Bad Habits was dismissed by critics as lazy theft from a man cowardly obsessed with commercial success; As It Was was welcomed as a second coming: “a natural move to a more meta, self-referential style of storytelling”, “a fearless leap into a new era”.
It’s clearly the rare type of success that means the contents of Harry’s house are almost irrelevant. It could sound like anything – hair metal, trad jazz, Surgical Penis Klinik’s 1980 EP Meat Processing Section – and still enter the charts at #1. In fact, As It Was turns out to be a pretty good indicator. of his sound. If the studios it was recorded in contained a mood board, it was clearly covered in pages of Smash Hits, plus some yellowing Rolling Stone boards in which everyone is sporting beards and large open-collared shirts on their faces. chest: Daylight’s lazily swaying rhythm and analog synthesizer represent the moment when Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away transitions from ubiquitous oldies radio to classic rock influence, with results that are authentically charming; The movie’s yacht rock funk is complemented by the sound of a guitar that’s no longer 1976 played through a talkbox, like on Peter Frampton’s Show Me the Way or Steely Dan’s Haitian Divorce. Elsewhere, the album specializes in evocative mid-’80s sounds. Along with the cut beats and icy electronic hook of As It Was, there’s booming drums, Prince-y vocal interjections, brilliant staccato synth hits and the distinctive bwwooing of the fretless bass (played, it seems, by the man who popularized said bwwoing in the No. 1 spot, Pino Palladino). Even the McCartney-esque bass fills in and Grapejuice’s Mellotron sounds less like The Beatles and more like a Beatles-influenced ’80s band.
It’s all applied to some really well-crafted pop songs, polished by Styles and his longtime co-writer Kid Harpoon to the point that virtually any of them could happily work as a single. It’s an album that, perhaps rightly, suggests an appealing confidence on the part of its makers, a world away from the classic cosplay rock of Styles’ self-titled 2017 debut. Even if you don’t buy the notion of Styles as a genius writer whose work deserves to be compared to the work of the artists he started his solo career with, you have to admit, it sounds like the work of people who know exactly what they’re doing. do.
Admittedly, the lyrics seem to be with a shrewd understanding of her fan base. There are more references to drug use than you might expect (edibles, pills, and coke lines all pop up) and the occasional diversion into bump and grind territory: “If you get wet for me, I guess you’re all mine.” But their main motto is to promise eternal fidelity and understanding – especially when your boyfriend and/or parents don’t – in a soft voice, close to the mic, so it sounds like it’s cooing right into your ear. from the listener: “I just wanna make you happier, baby”; “a bottle of red, just you and me”; “if I was a blue bird I would fly to you”. They’re also packed with everyday details. which suggest that Styles’ life is no different from that of his listeners, estimated at $80 million or not: bike rides, tea and toast, spilled beer. Even the “jezebel” of Little Freak, by whom Styles is tempted, but rejects – “you’ve never seen my birthmark”, he sings in sotto voce – exudes her tantalizing feminine tricks while dressed in a “tracksuit and ponytail” .
You kinda wonder whether or not these lyrics need the kind of careful reading in search of deeper meanings that they’re subjected to in some corners of the internet, just as you wonder some of the loftiest musical comparisons to which the work of Styles was submissive and if the sight of him stripping down to his boxers in the As It Was video “really epitomizes vulnerability in physical form” rather than saying, a fit guy taking his kit off because he knows which side his bread is buttered. Nonetheless, Harry’s House is extremely well laid out, ticks a lot of the right boxes, and has plenty of charm, making it a perfect reflection of the pop star who made it.