Harry of all styles, master of none
Back in April, Harry Styles was on course to be a superstar. His first solo single had gone straight in at No 1. It was a departure from his work with One Direction: comparisons were drawn with Elton John, even David Bowie. His album was a sure-fire hit, and he was about to make his feature-film debut in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
Which just goes to show that six months is a long time in pop culture. The follow-up singles have flopped, the album was last seen at No 73, and Dunkirk proved to be all set pieces and no proper story. Starting his first solo tour, Styles needs to turn the ship around.
He still has the fans on his side. The Apollo, heaving with hormones, offers a glimpse of what Beatlemania might have been like if the mobile phone had arrived 50 years earlier. The air is thick with piercing screams and glowing screens.
At 23, Styles has some of what it takes to be a star – the baby face, the glossy hair, the cheeky grin, the decent voice. But going solo throws a spotlight on what he doesn’t have: the physical presence, or the musical personality.
His sparkly gold suit can’t hide the fact that his movements are wooden. And his album, entitled Harry Styles, should really be called Other People’s Styles. There are tunes that borrow from Elton (in Bennie And The
Jets mode), Robbie Williams and Kasabian. It’s a relief when the band launch into Fleetwood Mac’s
The Chain: although the silky magic of the original goes missing, it is at least a classic song, not a cheap knock-off.
Even the patter is apt to be secondhand. ‘ My job for the next hour and a half is to entertain you,’ Styles tells the crowd. ‘Your job is to do whatever you want.’ The formula is naggingly familiar, but I can’t place it, so I search the notes on my phone – and there it is, uttered by Ed Sheeran on this very stage in 2012.
There are a couple of redeeming moments: a stompy revamp of One Direction’s Stockholm Syndrome, and a sweet ditty called
Dining Table, with a thousand teens joining in on backing vocals. But Sign Of The Times, Harry’s only hit, falls flat because it’s doubly derivative – a stab at a late-Beatles ballad, filtered through Noel Gallagher.
One Direction are officially taking a hiatus. On this evidence, a reunion can’t be far away. Harry Styles is on tour April 7-14; hstyles.co.uk
Styles on stage, and fans at the Hammersmith Apollo