Harry Styles: Harry’s House Review – A supremely charming artist who’s at home with pop stars | Harry Styles

A A few weeks ago, Harry Styles announced his US tour dates. They offered the kind of itinerary that just amazes: multiple shows in massive venues, including a staggering 10 nights at Madison Square Garden. It’s not just that Styles has overtaken his former One Direction peers in terms of popularity, although he clearly has: Think little Niall Horan, who sells his mother-friendly MOR, Louis Tomlinson’s tepid indie rock, and indeed the lascivious pop. R&B by Liam Payne and Zayn Malik, who titled his latest album Nobody Is Listening, a title that eerily predicted its commercial appeal. It seems that he seems to have pulled off one of pop’s toughest tricks – transitioning from a fabricated, screeching teen idol to a more mature artist – more effectively than anyone since Justin Timberlake, without pulling on the scathing snout that attached itself to his best-known ancestors.

Months before its release, there were people online seriously cutting ties between his forthcoming third album, Harry’s House, and the work of Joni Mitchell. At the end of March, the real Joni Mitchell joined them – by no means one of the great bastards in rock history. This didn’t happen when Robbie Williams released Sing When You’re Winning. Harry’s House’s first single, As It Was, was crowned with hosannahs, although to a layperson at least it didn’t seem very different from Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits. A little airier perhaps, a little more committed to the sound of American alt-rock, but both offered sagas of amorous hedonism and music audibly inspired by ’80s pop through the Blinding Lights of Weeknd: While Sheeran borrowed from Bronski Beats Smalltown Boy made, styles, like the Weeknd, borrowed from a-ha’s Take on Me. Suffice it to say, Bad Habits was critically dismissed as a robbery by a man cowardly obsessed with commercial success; As It Was was hailed as the second coming: “a natural step towards a meta- and self-referential style of storytelling”, “a fearless leap into a new era”.

This is clearly the rare kind of achievement that means the contents of Harry’s house are almost irrelevant. It could sound like anything – hair metal, trad jazz, Surgical Penis Klinik’s 1980 EP Meat Processing Section – and still be number one on the charts. In fact, As It Was proves to be a pretty good indicator of its sound. If the studios where it was recorded had a mood board, it was clearly covered in pages from Smash Hits, plus a few faded double-page spreads from Rolling Stone, in which everyone wears a beard and an open-to-the-chest, wide-collared shirt: Daylight’s lazy swinging rhythm and analog synth represent the moment Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away soars from oldies radio ubiquity to classic rock influence with authentically charming results; Cinema’s yacht rock funk comes complete with the no longer 1976 sound of a guitar played through a talk box, as on Peter Frampton’s show Me the Way or Steely Dan’s Haitian Divorce. Elsewhere, the album focuses on sounds reminiscent of the mid-’80s. Alongside the clipped rhythms and icy electronic hooks of As It Was, there are pounding drums, Prince-style vocal interjections, bright staccato synth bars and the unmistakable bwwoing of the fretless bass (played, it seems, by the man who popularized bwwwwoing took first place, Pino Palladino). Even the McCartney-esque bass fills and Mellotron of Grapejuice sound less like The Beatles and more like a Beatles-influenced ’80s band.

Cover photo of Harry's House
Cover photo of Harry’s House

All of this is applied to really well-crafted pop songs, polished enough by Styles and his longtime co-writer Kid Harpoon that pretty much any of them could easily work as a single. It’s an album that, perhaps understandably, suggests an appealing confidence on the part of its writers, a world away from the classic rock cosplay of Styles’ eponymous 2017 debut If you don’t believe the work of the artists he emulated early in his solo career, you have to admit it sounds like the work of people who know exactly what they’re doing.

Certainly the lyrics seem to be with a sly understanding of his fanbase. There are more references to drug use than you might expect (edibles, pills, and Coke lines all make an appearance) and the occasional diversion into bump-and-grind territory: “If you wet yourself for me, I guess.” , it’s all mine you.” But her main currency is promising undying loyalty and understanding — especially if your boyfriend and/or parents don’t — in a soft voice and close-mic so it sounds like he does cooing right in the listener’s ear, “I just wanna make you happier baby”; “a bottle of blush, just me and you”; “If I were a bluebird, I would fly to you”. They’re also packed with mundane details that suggest Styles’ life is not dissimilar to his listeners’, estimated to be worth $80 million or not: bike rides, tea and toast, beer spills. Even Little Freak’s “Jezebel,” which Styles is tempted by but refuses — “You’ve never seen my birthmark,” he sings sotto voce — exudes her alluring feminine cunning while dressed in a “tracksuit and a ponytail.” is.

One wonders a little whether or not these lyrics need to be read closely in search of the deep meanings they underlie in some corners of the internet, just as one wonders at some of the loftier musical comparisons to which Style’s work is compared and whether the sight of him stripping down to his boxers in the As It Was video really “embodies a physical vulnerability,” rather than saying a fit guy is stripping his clothes because he knows which ones side his bread is buttered. Nonetheless, Harry’s House is extremely well done, ticking many of the right criteria, and has plenty of charm, making it a perfect reflection of the pop star who made it.

Harry’s House will be released on Friday May 20th on Columbia Records

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