Pop

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Emily Ritchie

Harry Styles Harry Styles Columbia It’s easy to be scep­ti­cal when a mem­ber of a well-known pop group re­leases a solo project. Will they suc­cess­fully break free from the care­fully con­structed per­sona they’ve en­acted for years? Are they im­pres­sive mu­si­cians or have they been hid­ing be­hind the tal­ents of other group mem­bers? The lat­est pop sen­sa­tion to go it alone is Harry Styles of Bri­tish teen pop group One Di­rec­tion, and he cer­tainly takes things in an en­tirely new di­rec­tion. The 23-year-old is de­ter­mined to shed the skin of his for­mer boy-band self and in­stead em­brace an in­ti­mately poignant 1970s soft-rock vibe. There’s a stylis­tic and lyri­cal free­dom present in Styles’s self-ti­tled de­but, re­flect­ing a young man who rev­els in be­ing freed from the shack­les of the teen-pop for­mula. The epony­mous al­bum is a 10-track jour­ney through emo­tions and life ex­pe­ri­ences de­cid­edly too ma­ture and too sex­ual for his for­mer tar­get au­di­ence. Mas­tur­ba­tion, sex, preg­nancy, drugs and al­co­hol are all ex­plored amid a wash of guitars, per­cus­sion and or­ches­tral el­e­ments. Styles has ma­tured and evolved his sound since his be­gin­nings as a squeaky teen con­tes­tant on the 2010 sea­son of Bri­tain’s The X Fac­tor, and now he is rep­re­sent­ing the con­cerns of the au­di­ence that grew up with him. Styles takes in­spi­ra­tion from some of the greats — David Bowie, Mick Jagger, El­ton John, Ge­orge Michael — by har­ness­ing sim­i­lar sound­scapes in a nos­tal­gic fash­ion but also, it seems, in or­der to garner some sem­blance of cul­tural ac­cep­tance sep­a­rate to One Di­rec­tion’s mass ap­peal. Styles en­listed the sonic ex­per­tise of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Bey­once, Mark Ron­son), co-pro­ducer/ gui­tarist Alex Sal­i­b­ian (Young the Giant, Elle King) and co-pro­ducer Tyler John­son (Ed Sheeran and John Leg­end), who have each con­trib­uted to the mas­ter­ful char­ac­ter of the re­lease. There is a de­li­cious du­plic­ity to Styles’s voice that is show­cased on de­but sin­gle Sign of the Times, in which he fluc­tu­ates be­tween a light and breathy, al­most an­drog­y­nous falsetto and the hon­eyed, gritty and raspy tones of his lower reg­is­ter. From the Din­ing Ta­ble is a de­light­ful tune packed with a tan­gi­ble vul­ner­a­bil­ity, haunt­ing back­ing vo­cals and a suite of vi­o­lins that heighten emo­tional in­ten­sity. Only An­gel is en­er­getic rock dis­guised as cin­e­matic clas­si­cal, and Carolina is a trop­i­cal sum­mer groove. Woman res­onates with elec­tri­fy­ing sen­su­al­ity and Ever Since New York is a mov­ing rock bal­lad that cham­pi­ons his vo­cals. Many fans are spec­u­lat­ing whether Two Ghosts was writ­ten about for­mer flame and fel­low pop star Tay­lor Swift, with lyrics “same lips red, same eyes blue” said to em­u­late those of her 2014 hit Style. What­ever the back­story, Styles has clearly rein­vented him­self as an artist on this al­bum. With it, he proves that he is much more than a just a boy-band heart-throb, and leaves the scope wide open for an ex­cit­ing tra­jec­tory into the next phase of his ca­reer.

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