Often making headlines for gently prodding at the boundaries of masculinity more than for his music, every so often Harry Styles needs to remind the world that he’s still a talented, chart-topping singer.
That’s in no small part because up until now, his obvious comfort in his own skin has rarely found a parallel in his solo career. Although he has long since found his own brand of superstardom post-One Direction, running laps around his former bandmates by just about any metric, it has been hard to shake the feeling that his music has lacked a sense of purpose.
But with his latest album, Harry’s House, (★★★★☆) he has shaken that off and landed on a sound he can truly call his own.
If 2019’s Fine Line was all about playing around with different styles and influences to see what clicked for him, Harry’s House feels like the one where Styles turns off cruise control and more deliberately leans into his strengths. The single “As It Was,” which dropped in April, is a fun enough track, but doesn’t quite prepare a listener for the playful, even goofy mood Styles finds himself in.
That ethos is much more apparent on the album’s opener, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” which starts strong with a funky bass line leading into some infectious rhythms paired with lyrics seemingly designed to leave you wondering if he’s in love or just hungry.
Despite his voice getting lost in the production a handful of times, it’s all just silly enough to work without coming across as overly forced.
The funk elements that recur throughout the album help Styles channel some of the laid-back coolness of the era, a gimmick that pays off nicely when paired with other production choices like synthpop and jazz elements. His pivot away from pop-rock is a welcome one, although there are moments when it ends up being too much of a good thing.
While his boisterous pop sensibility works well when he does it right, throwing too much together creates plenty of moments that can feel overproduced and unbalanced. More than being distracting, the real disservice those moments do to the album is in drowning out his voice and personality.
When Styles’ charm does shine through, it comprises the best parts of the album. He could hardly be accused of lacking confidence on his previous outings, but this time he seems to carry himself with the comfort and ease of an artist who has grown into himself and knows it.
That confidence allows him to deliver bangers like “Late Night Talking,” a track that embodies a breezy, effortless sex appeal. Its buzzing synths work well and the harmonies are tight, even its abrupt end leaves you wanting just a little bit more. Luckily, he revisits it on the jazzy “Daydreaming,” a simple yet effective song with a hypnotic groove. The little bursts of falsetto are among the many little interventions that add depth and dimension to the album.
Harry’s House only really falters when he takes himself a bit too seriously. “Little Freak” might be the most straight-facedly sincere track of the album, although “Daylight” also features achingly romantic lyrics that might be a sign that he still wants to keep a toe in his teen heartthrob era. They’re the kind of lyrics that might inspire crying on the floor or visible cringing depending on the emotional state of the listener, but either way they feel out of place on an album that is otherwise cohesive.
Styles recovers his sense of chill by the end, hitting it just right on “Love Of My Life,” a fun and sultry closer with tense, thumping bass and just the right amount of guitar to end off the album on a satisfyingly melodramatic note.
The term “mature” is one of those compliments that is usually overblown when applied to young artists, but in Styles’ case, it is apt.
There’s a palpable difference in both quality and confidence between Harry’s House and his early solo work. As one of the most celebrated and materially successful stars alive today, Harry Styles didn’t really have anything to prove to anyone, so it is to his credit that he has embraced a new direction and a tighter, more fully-developed sound.
If Harry’s House really does represent a new direction for Styles rather than another one-off, it’s a promising one that is sure to pay off if he keeps exploring it.
Harry’s House is available to purchase and stream everywhere. Visit www.hstyles.co.uk.
Follow Harry Styles on Twitter at @Harry_Styles.
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