What do you do in your spare time while on hiatus from one of the world’s biggest-selling and most successful boy bands? When you’re Harry Styles you use that time wisely by dropping a debut album so commanding that it makes you an instant rock star. If you disregard preconceived notions concerning boy bands, as well as stop trying to decipher if lyrical subtexts may or may not allude to Taylor Swift, you will hear the emerging talent of an undeniably credible solo artist.
After spending the past couple of months teasing us with inscrutable artwork, in addition to an outstanding performance on Saturday Night Live, One Direction’s most proficient vocalist has unveiled his eponymous full-length. Harry Styles effectually straddles the line between do-it-yourself production qualities and cock rock. Styles’ big-budget debut unceasingly seesaws between sounding like a big budget major label release and an intimate indie music style recording, thanks no doubt to Styles’ studio collaborator, American producer-songwriter Jeff Bhasker. Regardless of the fact that none of the album’s other nine tracks are as urgently alluring as the album's six minute, Pink Floyd-esque lead single "Sign of the Times," Harry Styles is a substantially solid effort from beginning to end.
While some critics have described Styles’ debut as encompassing the entire history of Britpop, that description goes a bit too far, although it clearly demonstrates Styles is heavily influenced by some of the greatest artists that have been exported from across the pond. There are hints of Bowie and The Beatles, but “Carolina” sounds as if it could’ve been an outtake from Beck’s Odelay sessions. On “Sweet Creature,” Styles invokes John Mayer channeling Ed Sheeran, while “Two Ghosts” recalls the melody of Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” Then there’s “Only Angel,” which deceitfully begins as a Coldplay style ballad before unpredictably turning into a Rolling Stones style rocker replete with Jagger-like pretensions. Then there's the sauntering, R&B flavored “Woman,” which despite its Lennon-like title, actually conjures memories of mid-seventies-era Elton John, rather than the aforementioned former Beatle.
Although Harry Styles won't stop Directioners from wondering if and when the notorious boy band will reunite, it certainly affirms Styles has the goods to become a major solo star. It's also utterly refreshing to hear a young artist embrace the use of organic elements such as strings, guitar, and choir instead of opting for the exhausted generic sounding beat-driven production gimmicks currently permeating the musical landscape.