Harry Styles – Harry Styles // Album Review

The two identities that comes into one’s head when you hear the name Harry Styles are probably along the lines of “teen boyband member” and “that long-haired guy surrounded by fangirls”. Having been in a group for half a decade, creating records that panders exclusively to the teenage population, the musical path that Styles would take could go all sorts of ways, as his band fell apart. Eventually he went with downright old-school rock, a surprise to some people but not so to those that’ve followed him closely (there are quite a lot of hints), as he released the Bowie-influenced “Sign Of The Times” just more than a month ago, leading us to the self-titled release today. We listened to the record as a group, and here are our track-by-track thoughts.

Alvin / Dan

Meet Me in the Hallway

// After the information of the album dropped we all wondered what the perfect setup for the album would be like, and I feel like this opener is exactly what I imagined it as. A spacious, natural tune almost walking on the lines of folk songs, it’s a gorgeous opening to a huge fiery record, at least what “Sign Of The Times” suggested it’ll be. Now bring on the heavy drums and electric guitars. 8/10
// Even though Sign Of The Times already hinted at the artistic direction Harry would take for his debut, Meet Me In The Hallway still sounds very different from anything we have heard from him – specially its indie-ish production. Having heard Sweet Creature before, this track sounds quite similar at some points in the chorus. It’s a song that, even though it doesn’t stand out in the context of the album, it really is a great opener. The highlight is definitely its short instrumental bridge. The lyrics though… During the whole album, there’s a massive issue with lyrics, which I will explain later on. 8/10

Sign Of The Times

// This is so fucking beautiful. Everything about this era is beautiful, from its music to its aesthetic, but still nothing in the album beats this. Harry claims this is the song he’s most proud of writing, and simply from a piano backing, transitioning into a glorious tribute (some may call it copying but who doesn’t want to bring back the times of Queen?) in one bar of drum solo. The lyrics expresses the emotion and grief that we want to hide in times of hardship / death, though really vague enough to open for any interpretation, as Harry fills his vocal lines up with emotion and all kinds of drama. Just like its artwork, the climax at the end of the song is extravagant and absolutely breathtaking. 10/10
// This song is the exact sound I expected him to pull off ever since every member of One Direction kind of started going solo. A slow power ballad that resembles to countless old rock tracks, but it fails terribly at trying to imitate Bowie, Queen and Prince. Despite being extremely basic songwriting-wise, as there is a main melody that is repeated constantly throughout the whole song, it feels more like a mantra. Even though it does seem like some sort of anthem… It sounds quite fake, as if he was purposely trying to make some instant classic. However, it is still an amazing song. 9/10

Carolina

// From having already run through the whole album, this is one of the more forgettable songs on the album. Maybe it’s the “good girl” storyline that we’ve already heard quite a lot of times, or because it doesn’t have quite the good hook, we hear better tracks further on. 5/10
// One of the rawest songs in the album, everything sounds just like back then. Backing vocals sound extremely fresh nowadays – we are used to perfect pitch, almost robotic singing, here Harry sounds as organic as he can get. Truly THE highlight of the album. Even though the lyrics are just TOO basic, the chorus is probably the most bombastic thing he has ever sang. Carolina is one of those songs that sound much better live! The only downside to the song is that it is too short – I would include a brass section in the bridge, which would really help in the uplifting feeling of the track. 10/10

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Two Ghosts 

// By the first note that sweet, smooth guitar begins to play, I know I’m in love with this one. A acoustic-driven track filled with warmth and sweetness, I can already imagine this track on every teenage girl’s Spotify playlists for the summer. Plus, we all love a nice love song, and with a love song comes various arguments to who the girl might be. “Same lips red, same eyes blue”? Finally, a song that narrates the other side of dating Taylor Swift. 9/10
// Right from the very first seconds of the song, it feels like a massive Yoü & I rehash. At times, I jump into “AND THIS TIME I’M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT YOU” in the verses. Even though it is one of those tracks that sound great in those long drives of the movies, it does not feel any personal to me as the lyrics are just yet another One Direction rehash. Apart from all this, you can already imagine how this song sounds like as it is just your average teeny love song. 5/10

Sweet Creature

// They just had to throw in a 1D-style tune in there for the fans to have one last reminisce to. In a way I guess it’s a nice bathroom break to the two blockbuster anthems that are about to come, but with the limited 10 tracks on the album, and out of the 40 songs that Harry wrote for the album, there has to be another song that’s more useful to showing who solo Harry is. At least “you bring me home” is a cute Instagram caption. 4.5/10
// I can’t help but thinking of Chained To The Rhythm in the verses as there is a small part of the melody that sounds just the same. At this point, it is clear that Harry is going to keep One Direction’s sound and characteristic lyrics. A simple, dull, guitar driven singer-songwriter track where the lyrics are the spotlight and… well, given that this is his major weakness, it sounds awful. 3/10

Only Angel

// I quite like the intro to this, it’s almost like a roundup to all the songs we’ve listened to, which is one of Harry’s attempts for cohesiveness on the album. Then one scream and we’re here with the single most powerful anthems from the record. Once again, Harry demands to break free from his teen-pop identity, and comes up with such a convincing rock tune, where all traces of his musical past is wiped out, replaced with one bright, shining rock star stepping away from his peers. And when you even closer, he might even follow the legends that he diligently tries to learn from. The most surprising part is that it feels like he’s been doing it ever since he stepped in the world of music. 10/10
// This should be the opener to whatever tour he starts. Building up energy through pads and choir-like sounds, to the unleash all the power in the following guitar riff. It sounds like a classic instantly and obviously becomes his best song ever. Everything sounds just right, and screams for a live performance music video. Raw, rock Harry is the best one – he can leave the sweet inoffensive ballads up to Niall. The whole song makes me want to dance like crazy, and the bridge is genius. I just can’t wait for him to perform this live. Again, lyrics are terribly vague and generic. 10/10

Kiwi

// In the second most preposterous song title of recent memory behind Nick Jonas’ Bacon, Kiwi is again surprisingly better than what the title suggests it as. We’re going total glam rock in this one, where Harry completely rocks out to the lively electric guitars and shouts his heart out, and it’s no surprise that we’re rocking along as well. 8.5/10
// In Kiwi, Harry confirms his new rock persona – and shows us how this is the genre he does best! It is definitely the most shouty track off the record, contrary to what the title suggests. Even though there isn’t much to say about the song as it is similar to many others in the genre, I would highlight the backing vocals shouting around, which really adds to the song and makes it less repetitive! 10/10

Ever Since New York

// Following two uptempo tracks comes this mellow ballad that’s like a tone-down – and inferior – version of Two Ghosts. Backed by hand-held percussions like the shakers in the back bringing that nice natural feeling again, Harry repeats the line “Tell me something I don’t already know” over and over, and that’s in essence the song. Remembering the SNL performance, the song really goes to higher places as Harry goes on a higher register for the melody towards the final song, giving that gradual buildup, whereas in the studio version here it’s drowned out by the original vocal line. Oh well, still a good song. 8/10
// We already knew this song from his SNL performance, where I completely fell in love with the song. A laid back, soft acoustic song that doesn’t end up sounding too cheesy like others *cough* Two Ghosts *cough*. Ever Since New York keeps building up, reaching its algid point during the “Ooh tell me something I don’t already know” part of the last chorus. As Alvin pointed out, he should have definitely included those small melody changes towards the end of the song to upgrade it a little bit! 10/10

Woman

// The penultimate track of the record takes us back to early-70s Elton ages, almost a bit too reminiscent of those times. Even to the last bit of the album lyrical structures still remain as basic as possible – Harry shouts simply “Woman” loads of times in the chorus, which sounds like complaining? Or calling upon his girl to something? Other than time we’ve got that “Uh” thing that sounds like a duck and that really “quirky” “la la la la” that sounds like people trying to do a Kermit impression while singing. Cool. 7/10
// It does sound like a duck… And now I can’t get it out of my head, it’s like the Harry Styles version of “Got a lot of Starbucks lovers” – you can’t unhear that! Woman is just a small mid-tempo rock-ish song that isn’t much of a thing really, except for its amazing instrumental bridges, which are really a highlight of the album! 9/10

From the Dining Table

// In my vision of the perfect version of this album I thought it would be so amazing to have one massive fanfare of rock to end the record with a bang – too bad he went with the absolute opposite of that. “Comfortable silence is so overrated,” would be nice to finally switch up that staple to end albums with ballads a bit, even though I’m usually the one all here for ballads. Nevertheless as a standalone ballad this is quite nice, always appreciate some nice strings in a modern song. 7/10
// To start off, it is worth noting how great this song’s production is – not that it is much going on, but the vocal doubling is incredibly sweet and not cheesy at all! However, the lyrics are… bad… On the other hand, the small vocal build up where many harmonies come in, towards the second half of the song, sounds angelic! 8/10 

Summary

// In a whole new phase of a music career where the target audience is of the female gender mostly below the age of 20, it’s quite funny to see how Harry is now trying to please the dads of those below-20 teenagers. This change of genre came, although unexpected, fresh and very much at ease. With his debut single clocking to almost 6 minutes, it was after all a good decision seeing that it’s one that represents the record in the most fitting way – contrasting, grand at parts and one hell of a throwback. As he searches for inspirations and ideas from all of the previous rock stars, it made the rock sound effortless and comfortable – even when those ideas were all easily traceable. It’s inescapable that this record will be compared with his former groupmates’ previous and future music, but in this case where Harry desperately attempts to throw all references behind, you won’t even need a comparison to see who came out on top.

 (7.8 / 10)

// In conclusion, Harry seems to take the acoustic/rock route whilst others pick R&B, dance, pop or singer-songwriter… However, he is the one who seems to be stuck in One Direction lyric-wise; in one song, he just repeats “woman lalalala” over and over, and in other songs, he uses generic filler that could be used for spam comments bots leave at Popfection! Despite this nonsense, the songs are actually good if you ignore the lyrics and focus on the overall feel. I really hope he improves in his sophomore record, and that he leaves behind those cheesy ballads! One Direction’s over, you’re free!

(7.5 / 10)

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