When Harry Styles left British boy band One Direction, he was eager to prove his musical ambition and historical knowledge. Her 2017 debut single was the huge Bowie/Queen-style ballad “Sign of the Times”. An artist in his position might have come across as insecure or over the top, but Styles has relaxed with winning ease into his role as a gender-fluid, genre-fluid megastar, a new-look rock & roll gentleman who can go from the guitar raunch from soul to soft rock and convincingly pull off a come-on like “I know you’re scared because I’m so open.” He’s a Mick Jagger for our more enlightened age.
With his third album, Harry’s house, scheduled for this Friday, he has pulled off the trick of making his music both elegant and more refined but also warmer and more intimate – the softness of Steely Dan’s polished marble with the generosity of an Al Green or Yo La Tengo. Harry’s house is brilliant with synths and horns, often infused with smooth, tacky synth-pop and R&B. You almost expect to check the credits and find Greg Phillinganes and Rod Temperton there along with longtime Styles collaborators Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson.
He kicks it off with the nocturnal splendor of “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” a sultry madness of princely elation, as he sings of green eyes, fried rice, sweet ice cream, and bubblegum. blue gum twisted around your tongue. . “Late Night Talking” is a one-off study in early ’80s sweetness, with Styles fondly promising to “follow you anywhere / Whether it’s Hollywood or Bishopsgate.”
Many young artists trying out stylish 80s sounds tend to sink into a kind of pantomime of cocaine-iced New Wave detachment. And indeed, Styles mentions “making cocaine in my kitchen” on the sharp synth-pop shuffle “Daylight.” But the song is sweet, not scary, with styles in a haze of reflection thinking of New York bike rides and comparing themselves to a blue bird poised to fly wherever you are. On songs like “Keep Driving” and “Grapejuice,” the airy, plush grooves free up space for Styles to explore a sense of longing tinged with openness and vulnerability.
Styles took the title for Harry’s house of a line on Joni Mitchell’s 1975 album, The whistle of summer lawns. He takes a break from the dance floor to let his love of Laurel Canyon flow on ballads like the languid “Little Freak,” which amplifies his beloved’s “delicate point of view” and “Matilda,” where he helps the titular hero to sort through the ambivalence that comes with entering adulthood alone. In those moments, it’s almost like he’s the kind of lover and friend that the Joni of Blue deserved but didn’t quite get there because it was the 70s and people hadn’t yet figured out how not to be assholes.
Throughout the album, Styles’ singing is as conversational as his lyrics, making the romance a hopeful, at times fragile, dialogue between equals. It is logical that Harry’s house comes out just as summer patio bar season is in full swing. It’s a Santa Ana summer breeze of a record.