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Harry Styles – Harry Styles

May 22, 2017

On release day (May 12, 2017), I got up for a bike ride planning to listen to the new Todd Rundgren album on the ride. I noticed that Harry Styles’ solo debut was out so I decided to try it. Styles’ appearance on SNL earlier this spring impressed me.

As I pedaled and listened to the album, I was amazed.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was not this. This is sophisticated serious pop. As I listened, I thought of three Bs: Jeff Buckley, Beck and dare I say David Bowie.  The more I listen, the more influences I hear (as the Bard says: “Steal a little and they throw you in jail/Steal a lot and they make you king”).

Styles does not have one of these tour de force pop voices. He has a good voice, not a great voice.  However, he has what all the great pop voices have: authentic emotional expression. When his voice hitches on the high notes of “Sign of the Times,” it is more powerful than perfection.

I don’t know anything about Styles beyond he was in a boy band and he has celebrity girlfriends (Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, etc.).  This does not impress me. It’s a turnoff.  The SNL performance was enough to transcend my biases and give him a chance.  I am glad I did.

Looking at the credits, Styles has writing credits on all the songs, but so do about five others per song.  Who knows if he is really a songwriter or not. The songs are well done and the production is subtle and tasteful – unusual for celebrity pop stars.  More importantly, it has staying power. Often when something sounds good on first listen it wears thin quickly. I have been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and with every listen, it revels more depth.

What I like about Styles is he seems to understand and appreciate classic rock and pop.  I hear a hundred influences, but he still manages to sound original and of the moment. I learned a long time ago that a great pop song is magic.  If it were so easy, everyone would do it.  When it works, it is very special and this is a special album.  I like this album.  Every once in a while you need to be reminded that the world needs rock stars.  Harry Styles is a rock star.

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From → Music Reviews

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