I scream, you scream, we all scream for something so much better than ice cream — twice as cool and just as sweet. The solo debut from your favorite Brit since Harry Potter has dropped just in time for summer. Since you're busy screaming, I've helped you out by ranking Harry Styles' new album track list because yours truly is a person who has had the record on loop for several times already. I've moved past screaming and into thinking about how the album is as a whole. It's far rockier than you might have expected from a man who spent his formative musical years in the world's leading pop group.
You can hear London calling in the musical influences. Styles surely has an iPod loaded with tracks from The Rolling Stones to Fleetwood Mac to Wings (sure, the latter didn't form in England's capital, but there's that album, London Town), while his more delicate tracks swap his debt to classic '70s rock for the stylings of John, Paul, Ringo and George, and the softer sounds of the '60s. Clearly, someone's passionate about classic rock, even to the extent of embracing its cheesy moments (like the count-off to the first track "2, 3, 4..." which, again, was a mainstay of The Beatles, used in tracks like "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Taxman").
So which tracks pull off his tribute to classic rock and which miss the mark?
10"Ever Since New York"
The One Direction-er appears to have petered out of creative energy toward the album's close. This ballad, which he debuted on Saturday Night Live, is oddly forgettable — the musical equivalent of treading water. But, in happier news, this is as bad as the album gets, which is pretty impressive, because it's not terrible, just a little dull.
When appearing on BBC, our musical wizard was asked if "Two Ghosts" is about Taylor Swift and his response was to pull a funny face and call “Help me, Jeffrey” (as The Cut has observed, Jeffrey presumably refers to his manager Jeffrey Azoff). So, I guess maybe this song could be about Swift if it inspired so much panic? This said, sadly, it's not infused with the melodic spirit of its possible muse. It's pretty turgid music with some lyrics far too vague.
This is slow-moving, but has a lot of charm. It's far wackier than the other songs on the album, with the deliberately clumsy piano at its best evoking shades of "New York Telephone Conversation" (I know it's patently absurd to make a Harry Styles Lou Reed comparison, but, weirdly, this track made me want to put on Transformer — that's on me, though).
This is pretty silly and testosterone-soaked, but I appreciate the high energy. So much of the album is on the chill side, so I'm glad the Redditch native has crafted a song he can actually headbang to. Given the title, it's sure to spark rumors about it being about the woman he was alleged to be dating for a while, New Zealand-born model Georgia Fowler, and that's fun. Why not.
6"From The Dining Table"
Oh, I like this a lot. Is it me or is this a little bit Bon Iver circa "Skinny Love"? Enjoying the stripped back, intimate quality. Unbearably pretty.
5"Sign Of The Times"
I love this. One, "Sign Of The Times" has kind of a nutty premise: it's about a woman who is giving birth and suffers complications and learns she will die and the baby will live. In the words of its writer, "The mother has five minutes to tell the child, ‘Go forth and conquer.'" Which cis male songwriter decides to screw the "write what you know" credo to pen a total earworm about giving birth?
Two, you can take the boy out of the pop sphere, but you can't take the pop out of the boy. If the British heartthrob reads this, he will probably hate this comparison, but I cannot tell a lie: this is basically the Robbie Williams' "Angels" of our time. Forget the prog-rock elaborate premise and listen to that soaring chorus and try and deny it.
Too much fun. The church-tastic intro recalls high camp fare like the organ parts of Heaven 17's "Temptation," but then, instead of getting oddly sexual '80s electro, we get some proper classic rock, complete with yelps and big juicy riffs. I didn't even know that Styles could be this hoarse, wolfish sounding singer, but I love that he's this versatile.
3"Meet Me In The Hallway"
This is the first track and that matters. Your favorite 1D-er clearly has a lot of nerve: he isn't breaking out the biggest melodies or hooks on the album, he's taking a chance on being a little floatier and a little weirder. He's fusing pop and rock sensibilities and getting away with it.
Listen once, have it stuck in your head forever. Toe-tapping, great to dance to, and totally perfect. I'd assumed it was going to be a pure slice of Americana based on the title, but, of course, it's far closer to The Rolling Stones than to anything else.
I'm hardly the first person in the world to notice the intro's similarity to The Beatles' "Blackbird." All the same, Twitter accusations of his ripping off the classic track aside, "Sweet Creature" is tender and shows that Styles isn't afraid to be a little weird or sentimental. What has always drawn fans to him is a sense that his singularly pure heart has managed to withstand a highly ironic age. This song feels like the distillation of that personal warmth into just under four minutes of music that's as delicate as lace.
While some fans reacted with outrage on hearing the intro to "Sweet Creature," let's be real. If he's copied McCartney, he's also copied Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks, and Justin Vernon. The act of writing music when you're just starting out and you're a voracious listener is a similar journey to that of a writer's — you begin by imitating your idols and eventually you find your own voice. I wouldn't say that Styles has found a unique sound with this project. But he has produced one of the most highly listenable first albums I've heard in years. And that's huge.