Last night, Harry Styles released his debut self-titled album. With 483 days since One Direction last appeared as a band, he has achieved full solo status. Despite not being the first to release solo music (Zayn Malik dropped an album in 2016, exactly one year after leaving the band, and both Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson released singles prior to Harry’s album), he has broken out of the “former boyband member” mold and proved himself as a capable solo artist.
The album is a culmination of several genres, inspiration from a decade gone by to create a new, eclectic sound for the tracks.
The first track on the album is “Meet Me in the Hallway” which starts with relaxed instrumentals. I was not prepared for the first chorus, however, when the whole song ramps it up a notch. Foreshadowing to how the album ascends and then returns to a mellow tone itself, “Meet Me in the Hallway” introduces Styles' ability to belt notes. My mind's eye can already see him popping neck veins on tour. The theme of lacking communication in “Sweet Creature” is present in this song too. If nothing else, this person who doesn’t understand will know how Styles feels from the lyrics. I suppose that is how he decided to communicate, and it seems especially likely when he stated "It’s so much easier saying something to an instrument than it is to a person."
The lead single and Styles' first solo single, “Sign of the Times” follows. I assume by now you’ve heard this ballad and I can skip ahead to discuss Styles' newer work.
From the epicness of “Sign of the Times” (he was flying through the air in the music video so I’m not sure it can be called anything besides epic), the album segways into a song that is, to speak bluntly, more fun. The chorus of "Carolina" has a bounce to it and the bridge is full of almost comical “la la la”-ing. This is the next single of the album and I think that it is a needed tonal change from the last two singles. Styles seems to have become enamoured and written a song about someone he met once, and it’s a good listen.
Following is “Two Ghosts," another heartbreaking track. “We’re just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me” is a tearjerker and “Trying to remember how it feels to have a heartbeat” is a nail in my coffin. Another lyric, “We’re just two ghosts swimming in a glass half empty” is oddly reminiscent of another, “We’re just swimming round in our glasses” is a line from One Direction’s song “A.M.” which, low and behold, Styles does share writing credits for. Styles must be fond of this imagery!
Following the sadness of “Two Ghosts” is “Sweet Creature." Although it has been out for some time now, it is worth recognizing the importance of the location of this song on the album. The lineup raises some impressed eyebrows. If this album is a linear narrative, the two ghosts figured out how to have a heartbeat. Instead of lacking it, these two now are “two hearts in one home." How sweet!
Exactly halfway through the album and about half a month after “Sign of the Times” was released, we hear those beautiful end notes again. They serve as the intro to “Only Angel” which starts off with angelic notes (the “Sign of the Times” reiteration) and a quiet, mellow whoop. And then Styles shouts. That whoop comes to the forefront and suddenly what I thought would be another slow song is a rock ballad straight from the 80’s. This is the other end of the 80’s, the “Walk This Way” to “Life on Mars” and I love it. With lyrics like “I got splinters in my knuckles crawling ‘cross the floor” but also “I’m still the only one who’s been in love with me” it’s everything you could want in one song.
"Kiwi" follows in both track number and sound. The song insinuates love at first sight, but in the least juvenile, kiddie crush way possible. Styles says in the song that he knows he will be in trouble for his actions here, that the insinuated hook up will come back to bite him in the butt (“It’s like I paid for it, I’m gonna pay for it”) but he cannot care in the moment. Despite the progression of One Direction’s lyrics as they matured, this is perhaps the most we have heard from Styles (apart from his comment about “Stockholm Syndrome” being about a nymphomaniac, but I’m still not sure if that was jest). Besides, if this occurrence does have social ramifications, Styles assures us in the song that “it’s none of your business."
When “Ever Since New York” begins, it is a step down in energy. Perhaps the line “Tell me something I don’t already know” is Styles facing the repercussion of the last song. This track was his mystery second performance on Saturday Night Live but is more understandable in the studio version. This is not to discredit Styles' performance, but to attest to the softness of the vocals being purposeful and not a fluke performance by worn out vocal chords. It relaxes the listener back down before...
...being hit by the tone of “Woman." The song starts with a voice asking “Should we just search romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?” Did Styles just “Netflix and Chill” every listener of the album? The beat of the song with Styles' mellowed voice elicit imagery of a woman striding in heels, the perfect walk to strut your stuff to. My only complaint is with the “la la la” vocals, as they are so reminiscent of boyband music and feel out of place in song that is obviously meant to be thrilling. I could accept the explanation of satire, but it doesn’t seem Styles' style (pun intended). The lyrics, however, make me think the former boybander has lost whomever he was with for the duration of “Kiwi." It seems the romance has fizzled out and the woman found herself someone new.
For the last track, Styles brings the sound full circle. Slightly broken, mostly sad, and pining, Styles narrates the clingy, hopeful love so many harbor after a breakup. In a nutshell, “From the Dining Table” is a song about needing to hear a certain voice say “I love you.” When “even the phone misses your call” it’s pretty heartbreaking material. “I’d say it’s the most honest I’ve been, I’ve never written and recorded a song like that,” Styles noted. And that’s coming from someone who prides himself on his honesty. Even with Harry’s attentions aside, this song will be playing softly around me over a morning cup of coffee for the entirety of this summer.
Who is this album about though? A casual fan of Styles may throw Taylor Swift’s name about, but when it comes down to it, they only dated for a short stint three years ago. Harry Styles is writing ballads of heartbreak, love, and lust. This is not leftover from a three-year-old public fling, this is something more. Perhaps we will never know the subject of Styles' affections, but whomever they are, they’re a lucky human.
If these are, as Styles stated, “songs about stories, and another group of songs delving into, ‘Why did I feel like that’” I am inclined to believe that the first half of the album, as well as “From the Dining Table” are the latter. Styles has lived a life few have seen; perhaps this album is a representation of the rollercoaster ride of fame; highs and lows, parties and heartbreak. It is fitting for someone who has lived in the spotlight for seven years of his young life.
However, in Styles' interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he insinuated that he, although not attempting to be overtly mysterious to prolong his music career, does like to be private although honest. It’s a hard line to walk, and one that I can only assume to be understood by the person taking the steps. Am I discrediting my own interpretation of the entire album? Perhaps. But I also can’t assume to know Styles' life. I am just one more person on the internet after all.
Harry’s self-titled album can be purchased from his website.