Harry Styles was inspired by the hazy sounds of Pink Floyd and David Bowie on his debut solo album and basked in the mellow vibes of 70s soft rock for much of his second release, “Fine Line.”
On his third album, ‘Harry’s House’, the Prince of Pop has crafted a dazzling array of sounds, from plucky horns to sparkling synthesizers to muscular basslines.
Considering that the title of his album nods to Joni Mitchell’s 1975 song “Harry’s House/Centerpiece”, a Laurel Canyon vibe could also be expected. Et voilà, in the delicately chosen guitar notes (of Ben Harper) and the creamy harmonies of “Boyfriends”.
Since leaving the underworld of boy band mania, Styles has repeatedly proven himself to be a mature, thoughtful performer. At just 28, he’s experienced the tabloid vulture swing, a budding film career (he’s already earning accolades for his upcoming “Don’t Worry Darling”), fashion bullies and Grammy-level success – sailing with charisma and a sheepish smile.
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On “Harry’s House” (out Friday), his thirst for musical experimentation never seems indulgent and his blatant cues to his ancestry, whether 80s new wave or 70s funk, are always freshly dressed.
Styles’ third effort is indeed a charm. Here are some highlights:
“Music for a Sushi Restaurant”
Sometimes — okay, often — Styles’ lyrics are inscrutable, and the lead track is the epitome of his cryptic babble (“‘Excuse me, a green tea?’ / Music for a sushi restaurant / From ice on rice / Scuba duba dubub boo”). But it doesn’t matter because musically it’s a joyful explosion of offbeat pop. When a trumpet blares in the middle of a song, it’s like Earth, Wind & Fire walk into the room And that’s always a very good thing.
“Late Night Talking”
Just like with Taylor Swift’s songs, Styles enthusiasts will scour her new material for references to actress/filmmaker and alleged girlfriend Olivia Wilde. Of course, the lines “When nothing really goes to plan / You stumble your foot or break your camera / I’ll do whatever I can to help you” could be directed at him. But let’s focus more on the backdrop of the strutting soul and the sing-song chorus that fuel these carefree antics.
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A whiff of “Let ‘Em In” by Paul McCartney and Wings drives the soaring cadence until the song slips into a sumptuous chorus. The voice of the styles is altered by light effects, which give them a vintage cadence.
‘As it was’
The first single from “Harry’s House” might be the most perfect creation of his career. Between the melancholy lament of a chorus (“In this world, it’s just us / You know it ain’t the same as before”) belied by blissful synthesizers and lyrics that directly target his ongoing struggle against loneliness, the song is a triumph. Then, Styles injects a subtle tonal shift and bursts tubular bells – and for a fleeting moment, all is well with the world.
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Fans are already speculating that the sweet, melancholy ballad is informed by Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. On acoustic guitar and piano, Styles sings in his purest voice, “You can throw a party with everyone you know and not invite your family / ’cause they never showed you love / You don’t have to be sorry for leaving and growing up.” Regardless of its inspiration, Styles’ delivery is deeply touching.
Most people probably didn’t have The Brothers Johnson on their sample bingo card of possible styles. But his laudable infatuation with soul continues as searing horns and a scraping top hat anchor the song, which borrows slices from “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now,” the R&B duo’s minor hit from 1978.
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