Written by Emilee Lindner • Photography by Getty Images • May 12, 2017
There was once a time when it seemed like every One Direction song was channeling a great band of the past -- 2014's "Steal My Girl" epicly mirrors Journey's "Faithfully," 2013's "Best Song Ever" is pretty much akin to The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and 2012's "Live While We're Young" has an opening riff that feels like The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." After listening to Harry Styles' brand new debut album -- his first solo material since One Direction went on hiatus in 2015 -- I can't help but think that 1D's homage to the greats was Harry's doing.
After announcing a big 2017 tour, Styles' self-titled album dropped on May 12 with 10 fresh tracks that launch Styles into more artistic territory, while drawing a clear line from One Direction's soft rock leanings. Like 1D's last album, Harry has songwriting credits on every track off Harry Styles. Jeff Bhasker, who's worked with everyone from Kanye West to Mark Ronson was tasked with executive producing the project.
There was a bit of speculation when it came to predicting what Styles' debut solo single would sound like -- Would he follow in the moody R&B steps of former bandmate Zayn Malik? Would he yank some acoustic anthems from his writing sessions with Gavin DeGraw? Would he reinvent his music completely? The answer is neither. When the first song, "Sign of the Times," emerged into the world on April 7, no one could deny its David Bowie influence. It seemed like Styles would skew more art-rock.
Styles' desire to mimic his musical forebears is immediately apparent when you pop on Harry Styles. "Meet Me in the Hallway" strums open with a guitar straight out of America's "Horse With No Name" and a strong meandering bass reminiscent of any Doors song. Skip to "Two Ghosts" (which is reportedly possibly about Taylor Swift, by the way), and hear some of the flavor of The Allman Brothers' "Melissa" -- seriously, it's the same key and everything. "Woman" seems to be a direct Elton John reference, with hearty piano chords plucking the essence out of "Benny and the Jets."
"Only Angel," perhaps the wildchild sequel to 1D's "Hey Angel," has Harry handling his voice's gruffness with the carefree blues of The Rolling Stones. Of course, this isn't the only time Styles has been compared to Mick Jagger -- with a knack for androgynous couture, an undeniable stage charisma and a nearly similar mug, he's surely the first in line to played the older rocker in some sort of biopic. "Only Angel" has all the elements of a great rock song from the early '70s: a fierce 4/4 downbeat, a nasty guitar riff, a confident lead vocal, a sassy group of backup singers and even a little bit of cowbell (that's right, cowbell -- shoutout to Blue Oyster Cult). Harry's song, "Kiwi," which follows "Only Angel," is another version of rock n' roll, sounding more like the '70s rockstar revival -- à la 2003 Jet -- than Rolling Stones.
But Styles still has ties to his boy band past. Songs like "Ever Since New York" and "Sweet Creature," with their vaguely romantic lyrics, acoustic guitar and wall of voices, sound like they could've had a place on One Direction's last album, 2015's Made in the A.M. However, instead of harmonizing with Liam Payne or Niall Horan, he's harmonizing with himself -- he is his own support.
The album's closer, "From the Dining Table" is pure Harry. While we've been getting appetizers of Styles' taste in classic rock throughout the LP, this simple ballad sheds any fancy production for his simple doubled-up vocal. "You say you'll call me / You never do," he sings on the bittersweet track. A warm cello, known to make any song better, crawls in as sings about a love lost. It's hard to peg "From the Dining Table" to any the musical icon, and after an album's worth of references, Harry stands on his own. If we've learned anything about the singer from Harry Styles, it's that the true Harry isn't trying to shed the past; instead, he's bowing down to it.
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