By Hayden Wright
Beginning a new chapter after six years of boy band superstardom is no easy feat, but Harry Styles gracefully makes the shift on his self-titled debut album. Harry Styles leans heavily on the singer’s British Invasion aesthetic without wandering far from the pop sound that earned him millions of fans around the world. Styles balances moments of genuine depth with radio-friendly pop appeal, rejecting the EDM-laced, overproduced tendencies of the moment.
If One Direction was an iteration of the Beatles fashioned for the Snapchat generation, the Fab Five remain a key reference point for Styles’ musical inclinations. It’s a template well-suited to Styles: By the time the Beatles disbanded, their catalog explored darkness, whimsy, experimentalism and spirituality. On tracks like “Only Angel,” Harry adds a dash of the Rolling Stones to his solo cocktail of sturdy rock tracks—and the album’s most ambient moments contain whispers of Coldplay.
Though Harry Styles is far from an experimental record, it sends a clear message that his days of rote pop music are in the past.
‘It’s a bit weird, I feel like I’ve been hibernating for so long now and you hear it in the safety of the studio and now it’s time to give birth,” he told BBC Radio 1.
These are the best songs on Harry Styles first solo album, Harry Styles.
“Sign of the Times” was the debut single heard ‘round the world is the song Styles says he’s “most proud” of writing, and for good reason—its minor key balladry restated the Harry Styles brand on the radio. As a result of this lead single, the rest of the album feels more accessible. Bonus points for hinting at existential (political) dread with the song’s broadly interpreted title.
“Only Angel” starts out with a heavenly choral prelude (subtly evoking “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) that segues into the album’s most polished rock track. Plenty of shouts and screams punctuate the groovy guitar licks—it’s immaterial that the lyrics are repetitive because Styles finds creative new ways to deliver them. The layered, collaborative vibe makes clear that Styles spent quality time in the studio with instrumentalists…Harry Styles doesn’t feel like it was recorded in a booth.
“Kiwi” tells the story of a dive bar femme fatale who confronts Styles with a bombshell: “I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business.” The ensuing drama creates an intense, chaotic rock adventure. It’s impossible to say whether the song’s narrative really happened to Styles, but his vocals give the story credibility anyway. The lyrics may be tame compared to Zayn’s Pillowtalk but Styles lets the song’s blaring energy do the talking.
“Woman” begins with a question: “Should we just search romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?” The instrumentals that follow lean into a live jam band aesthetic. Lyrically, “Woman” explores some jealous posturing over a lady who’s bitterly disappointed Styles.
“From the Dining Table” is the album’s quietest, most introspective moment. Styles describes a former lover who’s moved on with “a friend from work” as he grapples with heartbreak and disillusionment. For a moment, Harry sets aside his newly minted rock star swagger to make himself vulnerable—a move that will play well with millions of fans from his One Direction days.