Review Summary: “I can feel you take control of who I am, and all I've ever known”
After leaving the extremely well publicised boy band One Direction one could have safely assumed that Harry Styles would end up releasing inane run of the mill pop music as part of his solo endeavours. Yet he surprised fans and critics alike with his self-titled debut where he explored his 70s folk/pop rock and psychedelic influences. It was a welcome surprise and a good initiation step for his solo career, but as a whole the album really didn’t stray too far from its principal music aesthetic. Sure there were a couple of more aggressive rock tunes in there, but for the most part the album remained within the acoustic folk rock realm, and this made the mood feel too consistent.
overall sonic ambience is considerably more sanguine than the debut yet there’s some variation and experimentation present over its 46 minute duration. Through the course of the album the mood can swing from up-tempo disco and Pop songs, to melancholic ballads, to Indie/Folk Rock terrain. The upbeat songs harken back to Pop from yesteryear in spirit, especially evident on the catchy single “Adore You” and album opener “Golden” that will have your feet tapping and head bobbing to the beat. The presence of a host of instruments ranging from guitars and dulcimers, to a range of organic keyboards & analog synthesizers, as well as strings & choirs helps bring different flavours to the songs.
Having said that it definitely still feels like more risks could have been taken, with songs like “Lights Up” and “To Be So Lonely” having strong melodic foundations upon which the compositions could have been more adventurous. This reservation can’t be applied to the title track however, with its brooding moodiness steadily escalating until its final cinematic climax, or “She” which reverberates the essence of the longer progressive/pop rock tracks from the debut. It has a effervescent chorus, great groove, and a tasty extended guitar solo backed by wailing sumptuous analogue synths, which are the kinds of elements I was eager to hear more of on this record. There also could have been additional rock oriented songs which the debut had more of a la “Only Angel” & “Kiwi”, and hopefully this is an avenue Harry ventures deeper into on future releases. On the plus side the production is near immaculate; very polished yet somehow still sounding warm, and the mix feels very expansive, complementing the sonic textures on offer.
On this album Harry seems even more comfortable with his vocal ability, which is definitely the centrepiece of the compositions, and he’s willing to push his voice further out of its comfort zone. There’s also a significant focus on velvety vocal harmonies, which shine courtesy of the aforementioned polished production. This album shows an artist gradually finding his voice and wanting to steadily traverse new musical landscapes. The same sentiment can be applied to the lyrical themes covered with there being an underlying introspective tinge to the content delivered. This is evident on tracks like “She” which according to speculation is Harry’s soliloquy to his feminine side, while other tracks speak of broken relationships and internal strife, indicating a desire to display his vulnerability and share the internal dilemmas he’s struggling with as he ages. This coming of age story seems a trend among some young artists, with The Weeknd also echoing introspective notions on his latest record, and certainly feels refreshing in a sea of mainstream music vanity.
can be considered a logical successor to Harry’s debut album. It accomplishes what you’d expect from a follow-up album; building on the strengths of the previous album and adding new elements that aid in expanding the artists’ creative boundaries. Granted some of the compositions leave you wanting more and the progression between albums is certainly gradual in its pace, but for an artist in his mid-20s and of significant public stature that could have dabbled in the world of soulless “flavour of the week” mainstream music, its admirable to see one that appears to put a little more consideration into his music and inject some character into it. It may seem a fine line to walk, but Harry appears to have the right ingredients to prepare him for the challenge.
2. Adore You
3. Watermelon Sugar
4. Fine Line