Review Summary: I'm still the only one who's been in love with me.
Is Harry Styles a Rock Star now? More than anything, his debut is the fabled convergence of two diametrically opposed marketing techniques; poptimism, the insufferable lionizing of your sister’s favourite chart topper, and rockism, the intolerable idolization of anyone willing to play a guitar. Together, they form rocktimism: that is, a dashingly handsome frontman from a remarkably conventional boy band, now growling and strutting as if he were Freddie Mercury incarnate. At least, that’s the motivation behind the operatic bilge of “Sign of the Times,” a 5-minute dirge of wailing, choirs, guitars, and, oh, ‘the bullets
!’ So jacked up on its own sense of irony, the whole thing whizzes by before you can evaluate just how bad this post-Def Leppard jukebox anthem really is. But then this sort of overdramatic, sexualized music for the barroom floor has always been silly, and suits Styles better than the overdramatic, narcotized music for the bedroom Zayn has desperately peddled out since proclaiming the mantle of overnight success. Needless to say, Styles' self-titled effort is everything “Sign of the Times” should have been but only desperately flailed towards; nostalgic nods towards ‘70s soft rock hits (“Carolina,” “Woman”,) wailing guitar riffs (“Only Angel,” “Kiwi”,) and inappropriate references to masturbation, one-night stands, and other bad sexual habits (“From the Dining Table.”) It’s also a product, so clearly indebted to the requirements of radio success that it polishes off the edge of every guitar and caterwauled yell, yet not enough to remove the references to his deviant behaviour and a delusional, messianic complex. It's careful in its curation, unable to expose its absolute lack of message whilst still entertaining the grim emptiness of celebrity for financial gain. That's the cynical view of it, at least; conventionally speaking, this sort of straightforward and well-performed hard rock has been M.I.A. in the last decade, and it's nice to hear it brought back so confidently, even if it is just another marketing technique. This is music that plays well in every venue, from the late night hangouts of urban bohemia to the awkward houses of the indie disco. It's tempting to be cynical, especially when you read about how Styles, 'wanted to do something that sounds like me,
' when 'me' sounds a lot like Stealer's Wheel. But really, to have guitars so close to the radio, and the radio so close to guitars feels
like a unifying experience, the likes of which we haven't experienced in years. So what if One Direction's frontman made it happen?