Music

Music Review: Harry Styles – Moving in a different direction

On his debut solo album One Direction member Harry Styles has moved from bubblegum anthems to sensitive grown-up rock'n'roll. Will his young fans come along with him?

When Harry Styles makes his acting debut this summer playing a soldier in Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk, his young fans might be in for a shock as the One Direction star meets a rumoured-to-be violent demise. And yet the challenging thoughts and emotions they’re forced to confront may pale next to those they’ve already encountered upon listening to Harry’s self-titled debut solo album.

In a classic episode of a boyband member wishing to now be taken seriously as a solo musician, Styles has sought to outflank his legions of screaming teenage acolytes by rooting through their parents’ CDs when they weren’t looking and reinventing himself as a washed-out rootsy rock’n’roller.

The near six-minute long Sign of the Times is a pumped-up power ballad something akin to Bruno Mars doing Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain. Two Ghosts parachutes some George Harrison-esque guitars into a tear-jerker about Styles’ doomed relationship with Taylor Swift (oh, the tragedy!). The finger-picked guitars and sad strings-decorated From the Dining Table, meanwhile, begins with this double-take demanding lyrical image: “Woke up alone in this hotel room, played with myself…”

There’s something admirably bold about Styles sailing against the prevailing wind of hip R&B-leaning electronic pop in the way that, say, his ex-One Direction bandmate Zayn Malik hasn’t. Where a huge team of A-list writers and producers could have swarmed all over this record, Styles has kept it tight and personal by collaborating mainly with Jeff Bhasker, best known for his work with Kanye West and Mark Ronson.

It’s dumbly old-fashioned in its misplaced belief that guitars and a faux-American accent somehow still convey gravitas on a pop star. But neither does it pander blindly to the 1-D massive with more bubblegum anthems, as Styles clearly signals that he wants to start afresh with the kind of solo career that lasts. Or lasts longer than he presumably will on that Dunkirk beach.

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