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Harry Styles' Album Reviews: What Do The Critics Think Of His Solo Debut?

But whether or not the album's references are a good or bad thing is up to you.

12/05/2017 10:21
Columbia

It’s one of 2017’s most highly-anticipated releases, and Harry Styles’ debut solo album is now upon us.

Seven (seven!) years after coming into the spotlight as one fifth of One Direction, the group’s most enigmatic member has now released his self-titled album, having already topped the UK chart with lead single, ‘Sign Of The Times’.

The solo careers of former pop stars have been notoriously hit-and-miss (Harry is the fourth and penultimate member of 1D to release solo material), so the question is, how does his effort hold up?

Well, as we already knew, the album contains multiple throwbacks to artists like Queen, The Rolling Stones and Elton John, though critics are divided about whether this is a bold and admirable move, or a cover for showing us the real Harry Styles.

Here’s what the reviewers had to say about the album...

“Harry’s soft-rock fetish won’t surprise fans of One Direction gems like ‘Olivia’ or ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, but this is the first time we’ve heard Sweet Baby Styles run with it for a whole album.

“The songs he tipped in advance didn’t play coy about his old-school inspirations – the Badfinger hook of ‘Ever Since New York’, the ‘Blackbird’ guitar of ‘Sweet Creature’, the way ‘Sign of the Times’ tweaks Queen and Bowie in candelabra mode – yet they all sound like him, playful and tender in equal measure.”

“There’s been far too much pressure on the 23-year-old to establish himself as ‘the new Bowie’ or ‘the new Mick Jagger’ (as if there could ever be such a thing), but what is immediately clear is that those two artists, among many others, have played a huge influence on the record.

“Styles has opened himself up, as best he can, to his audience, and by gathering a solid team around him to help achieve that he’s created an immersive, well-produced collection of songs that isn’t trying to prove anything in particular to anyone.

“And when you have that many people talking about you, that many column inches and gossip writers try to dissect your life like a school science project… that’s quite a feat for a debut album.”

“Not all the album’s musical homages work: Styles is desperately ill-equipped for the rock’n’roll raunch of ‘Only Angel’ and the glammy ‘Kiwi’. Alas, his voice sounds no more like Rod Stewart than it does Rod Hull, while the lyrics are a torrent of hoary pub-band cliches that suggest his heart isn’t really in it…

“Others, however, are really enjoyable: ‘Carolina’ sets a guitar part borrowed from Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ against a wall-eyed, Beck-like vocal and seasick strings; ‘Woman’, meanwhile, melds its ‘Bennie And The Jets’ piano and ‘Crocodile Rock’ backing vocals to a gauzy, echo-drenched, faintly psychedelic sound filled with retorts of fretless bass to brilliant effect.”

“If you were hoping for a big, contemporary, digital pop blockbuster machine-built to stage an assault on the global charts, prepare to be underwhelmed.

“What is on offer, instead, are lilting melodies and scattershot lyrics set to picked and strummed acoustic guitars, paddling piano chords, yearning slide guitar licks and fiddly-diddly lead solos, handclaps and yelps. It is all wrapped in loosely assembled backing vocals drenched in the kind of shimmering echo that would have given John Lennon a head rush. It is perfectly lovely and about as substantial as ripples on the surface of a Beverly Hills swimming pool.”

NME (3/5)

“To his credit, instead of taking the obvious route, in which Harry Styles became a post-Take That Robbie Williams, all silly gurns and stadium weepies, Harry and his co-writers have instead been looking to the masters of 1970s and 80s classic rock.

“They’ve fused the sophisticated penmanship of Los Angeles storyteller Warren Zevon to Motley Crew’s Sunset Strip swagger, throwing in some Eagles and Elton John for good measure. ‘Harry Styles’ is not, by any measure, an album that sounds like 2017 – One Direction’s fans have grown up, and wisely, Harry’s music has too.

“Taking inspiration from the best seems to have paid dividends, but it doesn’t half make you wonder what  the real Harry Styles sounds like.”

“The way that Styles and his producers… have assembled such a wide array of throwback music references, from 20, 30, 40 years ago, gives the album an air of precociousness that only highlights the youth of its front man.

“Granted, a precocious kid who wants to sound like Stevie and Elton and Syd and Lindsey and Liam and Noel and all the rest is a precocious kid with good taste, a precocious kid I wanna know. But it’s still pastiche, still a really well put-together school project. On ‘Harry Styles’, Harry Styles shows he isn’t quite grown-up just yet.

“There’s more than thwarted love out there in the world for a young man to explore. ‘Harry Styles’ the album gives us modest hope that Harry Styles the artist will find all that too, someday. And, more important, make it his own.”

“Overall, it’s a great effort. It’s a definite departure from his One Direction days, and each song holds a bit of a surprise for his fans. He’s clearly worked hard on the record, attempting to show case his solo skills and his deep love of a sound that takes him away from generic pop.

“But what the rock gods he’s trying to emulate would say, who knows?”

“If [the album] was a colour, it would be the baby blue of Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster or the soft pink of Mick Jagger’s suit when he performed on “Top Of The Pops” in 1971. It’s rock and it’s roll, but it’s also soft and sensitive...

“Unlike Robbie Williams and Justin Timberlake before him, there’s a deepened millennial sensibility to being a leading man. Harry is a sensitive soul; A post-Drake phenomenon; A serious pop performer with enviable vocal chops and a gifted ability to convey a song’s emotional heft. He oozes class, ease and a sense of import without thrusting forth from the hips, or wreaking of a self-satisfied sense of boyband emancipation. Both respectful of his past and nervous for his future, “Harry Styles,” the album, looks both ways.”

The Sun (4/5)

“In this world of computer-generated dance tracks dominating the charts, it’s a bold and brave move because this is entirely inspired by old-school rock classics.

“The 10 tracks are a bold mission statement from the 23-year-old who seems to be saying: I am a real musician and don’t care if you play my song on the radio.”

“The 1D man’s much-anticipated album, released on Spotify early this morning, is a self-consciously serious and grown-up effort… this album won’t change your life — but it might change your opinion of Styles.”

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