Harry Styles’s self-titled debut album is a radical departure from his bubblegum pop origins, showcasing a more mature and adult sound. It won’t, perhaps, be to the taste of all his fans, but there’s a lot to love about it.
The album draws on some clearly apparent influences; some songs feel almost like pastiche – to David Bowie, to The Rolling Stones, to Paul Simon. But it also feels like an artist coming into his own. Despite leaning on his musical influences and idols, it sounds deeply real and deeply felt.
The album is most unique and most powerful in its naked vulnerability, from the cover art (Styles’s back framed by opaque pink bathwater) to the lyrics on songs like “From the Dining Table” (“woke up alone in this hotel room/ played with myself, where were you?/ fell back to sleep, I got drunk by noon…”). With the exception of a few confident, rock inspired respites, the album is driven by a profound sense of loneliness and longing. It is astonishingly, wonderfully, non-aggressive. The songs seem to loosely follow a line from the beginning to the end of a relationship. This narrative through line, and the variety of musical styles that Styles draws on, make this album truly function as a cohesive album, not merely a collection of songs all on the same disc. I found it easy to listen to it all the way through (about seven times so far).
As tender and emotional as the ballads are, the few upbeat tracks are supremely groove-able, even if you’re listening to them for the first time (as I did) sitting in traffic at 6:45 in the morning. Starting with “Carolina,” a retro-y jam about a girl Styles is into, the songs all extol the ineffability of some indescribable woman. One of them, “Kiwi,” also features my favorite lyric on the whole album: “When she's alone, she goes home to a cactus/ in a black dress, she's such such an actress.” This is a perfect lyric. Is “cactus” a derogatory term for this girl’s boyfriend? Does she just really love succulents? It doesn’t matter, I love it either way.
In conclusion, god bless Harry Styles, god bless this album, and god bless those opaque pink bath pics.