Harry Styles's Music Finally Matches His Myth on 'Harry's House'
Published May 25, 2022In the age of faceless TikTok hits and flavour of the week viral superstars, Harry Styles exists in rarefied air as a pop star shrouded in mystique. He is an artiste in the classic sense: effortlessly cool, naturally charming, void of labels, genre-bending, vulnerable and strikingly handsome in a suit or a dress. As if Kurt Cobain and Prince had a love child, the issue with Styles as a singer-songwriter has never been his stage presence but meeting expectations. On his two prior solo albums, 2017's Harry Styles and 2019's Fine Line, Styles has shown flashes of greatness where the music matches the myth but has never sustainably justified the interest in him. On Harry's House, he turns the corner.
Harry's House isn't the grand Bowie-level timeless record he has been chasing since he released debut solo single "Sign of the Times" in 2017, but it is his best and most comfortable-sounding work to date. Breaking off from One Direction, the UK boy band that made him an international star, Styles has always appeared to have a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove he isn't just a pretty-boy industry plant but an enlightened musician with reverence for the past. Styles accomplishes just that and sounds, fittingly, at home in a warmer, sleeker sound than his previous records without overreaching.
Channelling his spiritual father, Styles kicks things off with "Music for a Sushi Restaurant," a vocally laidback, Prince-like eighties-inspired synth-funk track, complete with horns, a driving bassline, distorted vocals and scatting. It's a memorable opener, showcasing Styles's strengths, ear for production, patience and ability to be vocally reserved while retaining his charisma. Unfortunately, that same coyness is a double-edged sword, repeated throughout the first half of the album. In the case of "Music for a Sushi Restaurant," the track ends before fully bursting into the euphoric cocaine-fuelled party track it hints at becoming, a forgivable sin for how fun it is. That's not quite the case for tracks like "Late Night Talking" and "Daylight," which are both easy-going soft rock bops that noticeably lack eagerness and lyrical substance on a second or third listen. Particularly on "Daylight," Styles drives the initially charming chorus of "if I were a bluebird, I would fly to you" home so hard it is a bit obnoxious after a while.
By playing it relatively cool on the first half of the record, the more exciting moments in the second half are allowed to shine brighter. All of the edging pays off on "Daydreaming," where Styles finally delivers the slowly building pop-dance track he spent the album's first half teasing. It's a worthy successor to "As It Was," the album's smash lead single, and you can practically hear the crowds of fans screaming "Living in a daydream, she said, 'Love me like you paid me'" and chanting "Ba ya, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba" at any of the major North American venues Styles will will be playing this summer.
"Cinema" is another single-worthy highlight, a Daft Punk-esque pop-R&B record with a slick funk guitar riff and smooth vocals. It is indefensibly cool but also manages to emote a believable sense of yearning and desire from Styles, an impressive feat given his pop star stature. "It's you, and I am not getting over it, / Darling, is it cool if I'm stubborn when it comes to this?," Styles sings with a Pharrell-produced, Justin Timberlake-style chill.
Although the album's second half is dripping with hits, "Matilda," a reflective ballad seemingly about ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe, who played a character of the same name alongside Anthony Hopkins in 2019 film Now Is Everything, provides a nice moment of heartfelt intimacy calibrated to Styles's rabid fans. (In an interview with Zane Lowe, Styles says that, while he has played the song for friends, he has never played it for the person it is about, fuelling more speculation about the song's inspiration.) On the track, Styles sings from the perspective of someone learning about a loved one's traumatic past, and there's a genuine sweetness in his decision to simply listen and provide comfort, likely to do something similar for fans going through rough times for years to come.
If Harry's House has an overall theme, it is 'ease.' As the title suggests, Styles finally sounds at home in his role as a pop megastar. Settling in nicely on Harry's House, he manages to hit a sweet spot in between One Direction breakout star and modern-day rocker. While he may never be the sophisticated, culture-defining rock star he inspires to be, he has more than justified his place as a generational icon. (Columbia/Erskine)