Monday, 15 May 2017

we're not who we used to be: harry styles goes it alone on self-titled debut

last friday, two momentous things happened. first: i finally finished uni and moved back to manchester, though unpacking and finding a place for all the things i've accumulated over the last three years is an ongoing process. secondly: harry styles released his self-titled album, a day myself and millions of fans worldwide have been eagerly anticipating for what seems like forever. 

having travelled for five hours on friday, my only priority was sleeping, so it wasn't until sunday that i was able to listen to the album all the way through, but it was definitely worth the wait. surprisingly, his sweeping lead single sign of the times wasn't the opening track. instead the album opens with a laid-back acoustic track that reminded me of hunky dory-era bowie and sees harry begging for an ex-lover to take him back. just let me know / i'll be at the door, he pleads in the chorus, and i can't imagine there's many people who would turn him down and leave him stranded in the hallway. 

the aforementioned sign of the times and crowd-pleasing carolina follow, which some speculate is a metaphor for cocaine, though it's hard to imagine the veggie-loving styles indulging in the drug. ever ambiguous, he told radio one it was "potentially about someone from carolina". next up is one of my favourite tracks, another acoustic number titled two ghosts, which took me straight back to made in the AM, my favourite one direction album that i still play regularly. it also reminds me of early 2000s robbie williams with its clever songwriting, detailing the demise of a relationship and how both parties have changed since its ending. we're not who we used to be / we're just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me he sings on the chorus, lyrics that could easily be applied to the end of a friendship as well as a romantic partner. 

another track reminiscent of made in the AM is sweet creature, which sent larry shippers (including myself) into meltdown with the lyric no we started / two hearts in one home, and his confusing reply to these rumours was that "if you really listen to the lyrics, i think you can work out if it's really about that or not, and i would lean towards no"; another vague answer that had me baffled and did little to quell the suspicions that they've been a couple ever since they lived together in the early days of the x factor. either way, it's a sentimental ode to a testing relationship. 

only angel sees harry experiment with a more instrumental style, opening with a glorious, almost reverential chorus of synths and strings, before launching into a stomping guitar riff complete with cow bells and a stupidly catchy chorus reminiscent of ELO, specifically their track don't bring me down. recorded at harry's home in london, the lyrics detail his infatuation with a girl he couldn't take home to mother in a skirt that short, who also happens to be a devil in between the sheets. 

another favourite of mine comes next; kiwi wouldn't look out of place on any arctic monkeys album, with its references to cheap cigarettes, hard liquor and of course, cocaine, as his girl has a nose like the backed-up holland tunnel. he also pokes fun at some of the ridiculous rumours that have surrounded him ever since he stepped into the spotlight nearly seven years ago; i think she said "i'm having your baby, it's none of your business" he croons on the chorus.

while fans continue to speculate about whether the slow-burning ballad ever since new york is about styles' relationship with taylor swift, i'm much more interested in woman, a track reminiscent of the soul sound explored by bowie during his young americans era which sees harry display his jealous side; i hope you can see the shape i've been in / while he's touching your skin goes the pre-chorus. 

closing track from the dining table is a more low-key affair, featuring nothing more than an acoustic guitar and styles' softly spoken vocal as he laments a lover who's clearly moved on. why won't you ever say what you want to say / even my phone misses your call, by the way he sings on the chorus, while the bridge builds to a spectacular crescendo with a series of strings reminiscent of hey angel; another track from made in the AM.  

as a lover of high energy pop, i worried i'd be bored with an album centred around acoustic guitars, but harry's ability to take the past - paul simon, david bowie, fleetwood mac - and meld it with the present - arctic monkeys and even one direction themselves, coupled with his songwriting; personal but still open to interpretation, ensures there's something for everyone. i'm also hopeful that it will introduce new fans to the artists mentioned above that they might not have heard was it not for their influence on harry's album. his beginnings on the x factor could prove to be either a help or hindrance; those who aren't already devoted fans may listen out of curiosity or steer clear of it altogether. i'm hoping the sceptics will give it a chance though, as i think they'll be pleasantly surprised with the direction (i had to) harry has chosen to go in. that's not to say that early one direction tracks don't still bang, but harry's grown up and so have we, and this album provides an excellent introduction to his new sound. 

i'm a firm believer that seeing an album in a live setting brings it to life, which i'll be doing in october when my friends and i go to see harry live (!!) at the eventim apollo in london. i'm still in disbelief that we even managed to get tickets, and i'm not sure it will really kick in until we're standing in front of harry himself. saturday saw him play a secret show in london, which included a rock and roll take on kanye west's track ultralight beam, and i'm hoping he'll make this a more permanent part of his setlist. my friend also alerted me to a video of him performing stockholm syndrome during his appearance on the today show, and if he incorporates that into his live show, i will truly lose my shit, as it's (probably) my favourite 1D track. 

until then, i'll have his album on repeat, and whether you're a fan of harry or not, i highly suggest you do the same. 

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