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.