Review Summary: Harry Styles reveals his true self on self titled debut
Harry Styles emerges from his boy band cocoon as a fully formed artist on his debut self-titled album. He poses with his back facing the camera for the album cover, showing he doesn't need his face to win audiences anymore. Times have changed since the breakup of One Direction. Now, his artistry captivates the massive fanbase he cultivated while in the five-part boy band.
Many stars emerge from bands and embark on solo careers: Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Camilla Cabello...the list goes on. But many fail to reveal an actual personality as a solo act. They come off as contrived and as manufactured as their bands did. Personality fabrication works for bands- they have enough pretty faces to make up for it. But it doesn't work for a solo act. Solo careers, especially following departure from a group, attract the public with the lure of a hidden personality. Someone "coming out of the closet" so to speak. If there is no big personality reveal, people will move on. But it doesn't look like anyone will forget Harry Styles.
Styles showcases rock and singer-songwriter sensibilities on his debut album. On "Only Angel" and lead single "Sign of the Times," he experiments with stadium-ready rock, using his powerhouse vocals to communicate angst and excitement in equal measure. He has moved very far from the radio ready pop of "What Makes You Beautiful." On "Two Ghosts" he looks back on a failed relationship with a singer-songwriter's eye for detail and emotional depth. "Same lips red, same eyes blue/... but it's not me, and it's not you," he sings, downcast. (It recalls the style of song's alleged subject.) For what it's worth, Style's own boy band persona might actually be the ghost he left behind. This departure is even more clear on "Kiwi": "I'm having your baby/It's none of your business" Styles sing/yells over electric guitars. I can just hear the Queens of the Stone Age.
Style's candor on this album give teeth to the heart-on-his-sleeve persona from his One Direction days. To increase his stardom, it makes sense he would reveal what that supposedly open-hearted, wide eyed, charismatic boy had been feeling all along. The answer: a mix of angst, melancholy, frustration, and wonder about the future. It's hard not to wonder about Harry's future. His minimal social media promotion and few public appearances to promote the album speak to the level of stardom he has already achieved. They also point to the intimate album's ability to speak for itself. Harry Styles is his first solo album: the name is all he needs to sell copies. But we get to learn so much more about the boy behind the name. The album's emotional depth and musical experimentation are consolation prizes for listeners who weren't One Direction's biggest fans. And besides- anyone who says they were not a big One Direction fan is most definitely lying.