By IRENE PANIS
Five studio albums and four world tours later, the members of the world’s biggest boy band finally decided that they needed a break. One Direction began its indefinite hiatus in January of last year, and since then, all four members have released solo material. Harry Styles, however, was the first to release a full-length album.
From the beginning, it was clear that Styles’ eponymously-titled debut album would be drastically different from his earlier work in One Direction. His first single, “Sign of the Times,” was proof of that. Clocking in at nearly six minutes, the track sounds more like classic rock than it does pop-rock. In other words, in a time where artists such as Drake and Ed Sheeran consistently dominate the charts, there was a huge chance that “Sign,” which had more Queen and Bowie influences, would not perform successfully upon release. But somehow, Styles pulled it off; the single skyrocketed to #1 in over sixty countries in a matter of hours.
Beautifully written and phenomenally produced, “Sign” is a perfect showcase of Styles’ vocal ability. From the falsetto-laden pre-chorus to the booming bridge, the song demonstrates Styles’ talent so adeptly that many first-time listeners will wonder why they hadn’t become fans earlier.
When it comes to the album, the classic rock sound does not stop at “Sign.” On songs like “Kiwi” and “Only Angel,” Styles channels his inner rockstar. Each cheeky lyric or strained scream clues listeners in on just how much fun he’s having, and with that they can’t help but shout along, too.
Though fun to listen to, “Kiwi” and “Only Angel” (as well as “Carolina”) demonstrate Harry Styles’ one downfall. A recurring theme in the album is Styles’ infatuation with the “good girl who is actually a bad girl” (“She’s gonna be an angel, just you wait and see / When it turns out she’s a devil in between the sheets”). It does not ruin the album by any means, but at times it just comes off as corny. The good thing is that if lyrical substance is more of a priority for you, Harry Styles has seven other songs you could refer to.
The best songs on Harry Styles are the ones where Styles sheds the rockstar façade and shows some vulnerability. On “Meet Me in the Hallway,” he contemplates his faults and his role in the failure of a relationship. On “Two Ghosts,” he recounts his relationship with a lover in the past and compares it to the present, singing over country-esque instrumentals about how “[they’re] not who [they] used to be.”
The album comes to a close with “From the Dining Table,” a song that Styles himself has referred to as the album’s most emotional and honest track. This time, extravagant instrumentals are significantly stripped away to leave only simple guitar chords and Styles’ own voice. His vocals are much softer on “Dining Table” that it almost sounds like a whisper, only picking up the slightest bit as he begins to harmonize with himself, singing, “Maybe one day you’ll call me and tell me that you’re sorry too / But you never do.” Perhaps what makes “Dining Table” so emotional is the fact that it is not necessarily from the perspective of Styles but from the perspectives of multiple people. According to Styles, the lyrics consist of different stories told by different people around a dining table, but they all focus on the theme of missing a past lover.
Styles’ songwriting and vocal abilities have come as a shock to many since his album’s release, but one look at the songs he penned for One Direction shows that this is a side of Styles that has been itching to get out. And if Harry Styles debuting at #1 in over eighty countries is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that his fans have been waiting for it to happen, too.
With a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, Harry Styles is available on iTunes for $9.99.