As our feature album this week, we are going to look at the self-titled debut album from anthropomorphised sex toy Harry Styles. As my wife explained, if Zayn is the rebellious Robbie Williams of 1D then Harry Styles must be the Gary Barlow. Assuming Niall is Mark Owen then I'm not sure how Liam Tweedy and the one who played once for Doncaster feel about being Jason Orange and Howard [insert surname here] respectively. Having exhausted my clearly gappy knowledge of both 1D and Take That, let's see if Harry Styles exists as anything more than a cog in a marketing juggernaut.
If I may begin with a confession – I was preparing myself to have to tear this album to shreds. I had my Zara Larsson Songwriting Checklist to hand and my acerbic senses sharpened to a point. Being fair, there are tracks that might warrant that approach. The dreary Two Ghosts and its inevitable perceived breadcrumb trail back to Taylor Swift sums up what I didn't want this album to be – an extended Heat magazine in which we try to match songs up with conquests. Ever Since New York is the token 'the media don't understand me, I'm not the person you all think I am' track. Woman, for which Harry has clearly obtained probing rights to Ed The Duck, and Kiwi both feel a bit 'little boy playing at being a rock star' – disposable and forgettable.
If you see any of that as a condemnation then please think again. On the contrary, they are mere blips on an album that contains far more to revere than dismiss. Sign Of The Times is an ethereal contemplation bristling with tempestuous brilliance. It combines the grandiosity of Bowie with the prophetic musings of Richard Ashcroft for the real stand out song on the record. Meet Me In The Hallway conjures up a feel of duelling, competing instruments as an underlay to a track about a dysfunctional relationship. Only Angel is everything that Kiwi isn't – a bona fide ode to The Rolling Stones, screaming interjections and all. Sweet Creature is a lovely little ballad, with a hint of Ed Sheeran, about soulmates overcoming the obstacles of life. The album closes out on From The Dining Room, a track of heartbreak that holds more than a little Elliott Smith in its sombre tone and orchestral backdrop.
There aren't many ways in which I can say I feel sorry for Harry Styles. Young, rich, good-looking, he and his 1D cohorts are the closest that the twenty-first century has come to something resembling the hysteria of Beatlemania. One area in which I am able to conjure up a modicum of sympathy for him though is with regards to this album for it is one for which he will struggle to garner any form of honest feedback. Either people will prejudge him as the self-indulgent ne'er do well that certain media interactions have hinted towards or they will laud him as a messiah due to the boy band worship bubble from which he has emerged.
Unfortunately, there won't be enough people who will genuinely tell Harry Styles that he has fashioned a pretty decent stab at an album. Yes, at times, it feels a little derivative – there are nods to the seventies that feel more like an attempt to break out of the 1D mould than they do authentic nods to a treasured era. On the whole though, there is a bravery to his work and his voice, as it pops above the parapet of group comfort, is far better than I had anticipated. I think Styles has shown enough in this first album to warrant being judged on a second. The only question is whether he can escape the trappings of homage and carve a niche that belongs exclusively to him? I, for one, wish him all the best.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“You can't bribe the door on your way to the sky”
Sign Of The Times
Styles takes the road less travelled
First steps of promise
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