Easily one of the most anticipated solo ventures of the last couple of years, former One Directioner Harry Styles has been quietly sitting on the sidelines of the pop scene over the last year while his former band mates try their hand at solo careers and raising families with Niall and Zayn turning out a handful of hits between them, Loui devoting his time to fatherhood and Liam multi-tasking by becoming a first time father with Girls Aloud’s Cheryl Ann Fernandez-Versini and preparing for a May release of his debut solo single. Perhaps this was an intentional move on Styles’ part; seeing what goes wrong and what goes right with your fellow band members attempts at breaking out of the hugely successful One Direction bubble in an effort to sharpen his own solo reveal.
Going solo is a pretty daunting venture for any musician. We’ve seen mega pop groups split in the past and their members efforts as a solo act going well (Geri Halliwell and Melanie C) and extremely well (Robbie Williams), but there is also every chance the hopes of a lucrative career as a one piece could go less fruitfully than expected (Gary Barlow) or just plain wrong (Victoria Beckham). Styles seems to have ticked all the boxes with his personal quest for solo super-stardom with the release of his self-titled debut solo record.
The opening acoustic guitar strumming and vocal echoes of Meet Me In The Hallway dishes up a memorable introduction that oozes with Bowie influences and gently ease us into cinematic lead single, Sign of the Times. Very different musically and lyrically to the tracks he became famous for as part of 1D, the tracks mature lyrics and psychedelic-drenched instrumentation harks back to the days of Lennon and Bowie as he unfurls a surprisingly powerful hit with as much depth and emotion as any song you will hear in 2017 and one that leads us far from the pop path that he was since been confined to travelling.
While tracks like Sign of the Times and the thought-provoking Ever Since New York throw melancholia and depth at us from all directions, numbers like Carolina shake things up on the record and give listeners a chance to sing along to tracks that are a little less serious and hold much more simply melodies and bouncy rhythms.
Two Ghosts, with its slight summery vibe, slide guitar twang and syrupy backing vocals provides the record with one of several beautiful acoustic highlights as it sits side by side with Sweet Creature, another standout beauty held within the tracklisting.
While there are obvious influences tying the record together, he doesn’t stick to any one particular genre here. Only Angel is a perfect example of transformation within the record as Styles delivers a storming rock-edged track with a gnarly bite to it while the following Kiwi is the perfect follower as it unleashes some punk-fueled guitar work with Styles’ vocal wailing taking the drivers seat as he puts his foot down hard and speeds far from his former pristine pop persona.
Album closer From The Dining Table is another example of an effortless stylistic shift within the record as the musician musters up a stripped back and acoustic gem for fans. With its layered vocals, casually strummed guitar and gorgeous string section providing the leading man with a majestic backbone, Styles pours his heart out on the romantic closer; wrapping the record up beautifully with the line “Even my phone misses your call, by the way“.
It’s hard to ignore the Bowie/Rolling Stones/Lennon influences that run rampant throughout the record and while any efforts to become the next Bowie, Jagger or Lennon is far out of reach for anyone, the swift change in direction from pop boy band member to a singer-songwriter with such mature depth should be applauded as that is the superstars greatest achievement here. Styles has shown us on this record that he is more than capable and equipped for such a dramatic musical transformation.