Harry Styles' debut solo album has had arguably as much hysteria surrounding it than Adele's epic 25 - and actually, the One Direction star seems to have delivered.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but after listening to the R&B and pop styles of his former band mates’ offerings, I definitely wasn’t expecting this. The album, part recorded in Abbey Road Studios, is not quite committed to one genre; it’s a fusion of rock and roll, folk, and pop, and I can quite happily say there isn't a filler in sight.
Kicking things off is the very eerie sounding Meet Me in the Hallway - lyrically speaking, it sounds like it’s coming from a drug user’s POV, crying out and pleading for his next fix, but here, the drug is most definitely love; he almost whispers to the listener, backed by simple guitar licks and a rich bass. Emotional, stripped back, and quite brilliant.
Next comes Sign of the Times, the song that literally broke the Internet. A powerful piano ballad with more than a hint of Chris Martin about it, it seriously showcases Styles' strong vocal capabilities. Carolina starts with a really fun 70s-sounding bass undertone, then comes the swinging guitar riff, and I’m already sold. With such a simple chorus: “She’s a good girl / she’s such a good girl”, it’s hard not to sing along. Two Ghosts is a complete 360, heading back down tempo with a beautifully stripped back, lay it all bare approach to a song describing a relationship at the point of breakdown: "We’re just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me".
A simple chord progression kicks off Sweet Creature - and the beauty lies in just that: gentle guitar picking, and a soulful Styles declaring his love for a woman who keeps him grounded. Very nice indeed.
Then comes Only Angel where Styles gets all rock and roll on us; in contrast to the vulnerable side on show in his previous tracks, Only Angel sees him at his most confident: ‘Open up your eyes, shut your mouth and see / that I'm still the only one who's been in love with me’. Kind of says it all, doesn't it? There’s a real Stones-esque vibe to this, and I must admit, it got my pulse racing..!
Sticking to this harder rock theme is Kiwi, a song about a bad girl with daring lyrics such as: "Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s always backed up" and "Now she’s all over me, it’s like I paid for it". This is Styles boldly shedding his boy-band image.
Slowing things back down again, Ever Since New York opens with a catchy guitar groove, setting the tempo for the final few songs on the album. A song about a lost love in the Big Apple, or perhaps a lost love for the city itself? Next comes Woman - a sexy R&B number which incorporates funky piano tunes with electric guitar riffs and sees Styles playing the jealous lover; and the closing track, From the Dining Table, sees the record finish as intimately as it began. Opening with a simple acoustic guitar and gentle vocals, Styles’ confessional-sounding lyrics and a down tempo vibe perfectly portray the feeling of loneliness, lost love and, again, jealousy that a lover has moved on without him.
Naming your debut album after yourself is a bold move, but for Styles, is one that says ‘this is me’, and I congratulate him for it. Refreshingly different from the manufactured One Direction mega hits, this album might be just what today's music industry is missing. A great effort and a cracking debut.
Review by Jade Perry