By Harry Styles
The smooth sounds of classic rock aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Harry Styles. The former One Direction member is better known for his teeny-bopper anthems and tabloid-worthy break-ups than his musicianship, but that’s all about to change.
In his self-titled solo debut, Styles provides an eloquent and mature record that sounds more like David Bowie than Justin Bieber. Acoustic guitar mixes with a deep piano grounding and the occasional electric guitar riff (highlighting his ascension into rock superstar) makes you feel like you’re listening to an old record that has been pulled out of the collection of a uber-hip uncle who knows just a bit too much about the 70s.
Lead single, Sign of the Times, is undoubtedly a standout track, showcasing Styles’ impressive vocal range and musicianship as he tells the story of mother who dies during giving birth. With lyrics like, “We don't talk enough, we should open up, before it’s all too much. Will we ever learn, we’ve been here before?”, the song is a reminder for many of us to invest in our closest relationships and spend our time on earth living out Christ’s love rather than being overcome by evil.
Sweet Creature and From the Dining Table also rise above the rest, subtly utilising an acoustic guitar to emphasise Styles’ tone, and giving us an introspective look into his soul.
While his peers have released music to publicly show retribution at their ex’s, Styles steers clear of this, the only sign of identification in his songs is the description of “same lips red, same eyes blue”, which is likely a reference to the Taylor Swift single Style. Yet even in this, Styles has penned a moving and bittersweet ballad that is merely a nod to the past.
There are red flags hidden among this treasury of gems. Sexual references are not so subtly hinted at in various songs (particularly in No Angel and From the Dining Table) and there are references to drinking and smoking. More than anything, though, each song is a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what it’s like to be one of the most sought-after popstars in the world, and this provokes more empathy than distaste.
If you are comfortable moving past these lumps of coal, you will discover an album that will likely become the iconic debut of one of rock-and-roll’s best and brightest. Yes, it’s a big call. But when Styles can transform from the jingly pop sounds of You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful to having his sound compared to Bowie, Queen and Prince by Rolling Stone magazine, you know he is on to something good.
This is a standout album from the most unexpected source.