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Harry Styles reaches into the past for his debut record

Harry+Styles+performing+with+One+Direction.
Harry Styles performing with One Direction.

Harry Styles performing with One Direction.

Photo courtesy of "Ianthebush" via Flickr

Photo courtesy of "Ianthebush" via Flickr

Harry Styles performing with One Direction.

Steven Le, Staff Writer

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Harry Styles was once known as yet another pop star who made generic pop music. Although his music with One Direction was boring, the boy band never switched up their style, why would they? The formula was working for them. However, with the parting of the band, each former One Direction member was allowed to express themselves fully with their music. Zayn decided to make minimal, atmospheric pop music, which I personally didn’t like. However, Harry Styles, the latest Directioner to make a solo effort, surprised the whole world with the single, “Sign of the Times”, a grand, epic, and somber rock song that I really liked. He also released “Sweet Creature”, a soft acoustic folk ballad that I found enjoyable. These two songs had me anticipating this record, and now that Style’s self-titled album is here, full of a concise ten songs, I have to say, it’s not bad at all.

The album starts off with “Meet Me in the Hallway”, an airy folk song. I love this song’s baseline and the little synthesizer beeps that appear the whole way, both backed by a simple acoustic guitar. Styles’ vocal performance is kind of weak on the verses, but the chorus explodes with passion as Styles yells at this lover that he’s “gotta get better”. Speaking of lyrics, there is a reference to morphine abuse, definitely darker than a One Direction song. This is one of the better choruses on the album, and the optimistic tune was a good start to the record.

The next song is “Sign of the Times”, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard. Overall, I love the grandeur this song brings to the table. I love the buildup to the epic climactic finale, and the loud and layered instrumental carries Harry’s passionate vocals well. The theme of the song is really cool and feels like a somber version of the antiwar themes on the classic Marvin Gaye record, “What’s Going On”. The other single released prior the this album, “Sweet Creature”, was a nice folk inspired contrast to “Sign of the Times”. It takes a while to get going, but the layers of the instrumental slowly come in to make a pretty good, harmonious track.

Styles wears his influences on his sleeves on this album. Everyone’s calling him the next David Bowie, and I can see where they’re coming from. However, the David Bowie style rock really only appears on “Sign of the Times”. Styles also pulls from other types of rock as well. On “California”, Styles takes on west coast rock, with soft, bass dominant verses and an explosive chorus, almost Weezer-esque. On “Only Angel” and “Kiwi”, Styles tries out a Hard Rock sound, and it honestly sounds pretty great. The instrumentals stay very true to their inspirations, and Styles’ vocal performances are amazing. He screams from the top of his lungs at times while managing to sound great. I really like the clever lyrics on “Only Angel”, with the contrast of “she’s a devil between the sheets”, and “she’s an angel, my only angel”. The angelic background vocals are very fitting as well.

Probably one of the best things about this album are the vocals. I’m not saying any of the boys that were in One Direction weren’t talented, but I feel Styles’ vocals were trapped behind the generic pop beats One Direction used. He unleashes his voice on all the harder hitting songs, but also shows tenderness on the acoustic ballads as well. However at times, it sounds like he’s trying too hard to sing softly, like on “From the Dining Table”. All the background harmony vocals also sound great throughout the album, I’m glad Styles’ producers put a lot of thought into these instrumentals. The grandeur of this album is a much needed change of pace from the minimalistic pop that some people on the radio are holding on to (Zayn, I’m looking at you).

Topically, this album kind of falters. “Sign of the Times” was kind of vague and up for interpretation, I interpreted it as an anti-war theme. The rest of the album is mostly about heartbreak, the disadvantages of fame, and women that are unhealthy for Styles. Actually, “California” I think is about cocaine personified as a woman, like The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”. The track “Woman” is a lyrical low point for me. The beat is kind of dragged out, Styles’ performance is ok, and the lyrical topic is about how he’s sad his ex is with someone else. It’s pretty played out and kind of similar to The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside”. The guitar solo on this track is underwhelming as well. There’s also a lot of “we don’t talk enough” and “tell me what I don’t know” lyrics on this album. A lot of  the themes on the album are cliche at times and lyricism isn’t Styles’ biggest strength

Overall, I really like this album. I think it’s great that Styles’ is paying homage to 70’s rock and is attempting to make these styles relevant again. He performs with these styles without compromising them for mainstream appeal (Ed Sheeren, take notes). However, there’s so many musical influences on this album, it sounds kind of messy. It’s kind of awkward transitioning from the fun, loud “California” to the country flavored “Two Ghosts”. Nearly all the tracks work by themselves, but when they come together as an album, it doesn’t sound as cohesive as it could be. Also, Styles doesn’t do too much to give his own twists on these sounds. His influences are very apparent, but he does do these sounds justice. But this is just his debut, I wasn’t expecting a completely distinct sound yet. I can’t wait to hear what he might bring to the table on the next record. My favorite tracks are “Meet Me in the Hallway”, “Sign of the Times”, “Sweet Creature”, “Only Angel”, and “Kiwi”. My least favorite track is “Woman”. I would have to give this record a 7/10. Honestly, I’m surprised I liked it this much. I see so much potential in what Styles is doing, and if you’re not a fan of what One Direction did, I still suggest you give this album a listen. It may just shock you as much as it shocked me.

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Harry Styles reaches into the past for his debut record