Harry Styles: The Album

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In which Camilla attempts (and fails) to briefly give her opinions on Harry Styles’ debut album, and does manage to sound incredibly silly by talking about herself in the third person.

I wrote half of this in a bout of insomnia at 4am last night, so let’s blame anything weird on that, okay? Okay.

It’s no secret how much I love Harry Styles. I have quite a fickle nature when it comes to loving things and as such I often experience peaks of obsession that are never quite matched after they die down a bit. There are a handful of exceptions to this, most notably Harry Styles. He is my favourite celebrity, one of my favourite people and one of my favourite artist. He is an incredibly decent person, he manages to toe the line between playing the fame game perfectly and remaining genuine and real. He is borderline hipster and slightly pretentious in his approach to the artistic side of his output (I say this with love), but he is also the guy who hands out plates of kiwi to people camping out to get to see him perform because it’s the title of one of his songs and he is a dork.

While I’ve always appreciated his voice and his artistic capabilities, this debut album has no doubt made me realise just how far reaching that talent is. A good few of the songs he wrote with and for One Direction were my favourite ones the band ever made, so I’ve been anticipating this new set of songs since before he even announced he was working on solo material. Despite that, I don’t think I was prepared for what he has just released. I described it yesterday as a sonic love letter to the history of British music. I might have been a bit caught up in my excitement, you be the judge. Moving on. People who know music better than me will give you a list of musical influences that can be found within these ten songs, so I won’t bother to make uneducated guesses. For me it comes down to how it reminds me of a lot of the great British staples in music history, and how each song explores its own interesting sound palate. What I’m overall most impressed with and interested in when it comes to this album is its sound and production choices. Because everything about this album leaves me with the impression that a lot of thought and care has been put into making the final product sound the way it does.

First of all, I have loved the rollout of this album. For the sake of simplicity and in an attempt to avoid making this post longer than it already is, here are just a few of the things I’ve loved about what Harry’s put out over that last month:

 

  • The soft, pink, aesthetic on the album art, the vulnerability in the photos, the fact that it’s very atypical of traditional depictions of masculinity. Not shocking coming from Harry Styles, but nice nonetheless.
  • The choice to have the first play of his first solo single happen on radio 1 during a 2-hour interview with a close friend after over a year of doing no press at all.
  • The way he managed to build anticipation for his album simply by not saying anything for so long, and then the borderline ridiculous levels of secrecy that sort of make sense when you consider how many times One Directions albums were leaked early.
  • The Rolling Stones feature where he said he loved the idea of being a bit of a mystery only to let his enthusiasm for his music drive him to being slightly more honest and open than he’s been in years.
  • The choice to have SNL be his first live performance, and how it established his talent both as a solo performer and as an entertainer.
  • His second and arguably better performance at Graham Norton.

 

I could go on, but despite what the previous paragraphs seem to indicate I’m here to discuss the album, not the person. Somewhat related to that, I’m not really interested in picking apart all the lyrics to figure out what and who it’s about. Which, knowing me. says quite a lot about how I feel about this album. I will say that while there definitely seems to be a person/people he keeps referencing throughout, I do agree with what he’s said himself about how the album is more about Harry himself than anyone else. It’s all about him in the lyrics, in the melodies, in the production. Let’s go track by track because structure is nice but not something I’m good at:

 

Meet Me in the Hallway: Very nice and atmospheric start to the album. Slightly melancholic and artsy. I loved the layered vocals, which is a sentiment I will reiterate on some of the other songs, I can assure you. My favourite part of the song is the guitar strumming on the pre-chorus and how it doesn’t follow the same melodic pattern as the vocals, as well as the repetitious emphatic vocals on “I’ve gotta get better”.

Sign of the Times: I have listened to this a countless amount of times by now and enjoyed it every time, but I don’t think I appreciated it fully until earlier today. I love the falsetto on the pre-chorus. I love the Bowie-like modulation as it moves into the first chorus. I love how it doesn’t really reach its climax until pretty late in the song. And I like that it’s one of those songs where you benefit from listening multiple times.

Carolina: Groovy. To my very European ears this pretty Southern, which seems fitting for the name of the song. I love the low production on the ‘oh yeahs’, and I dig the entire sound palate going on in the background of this song. This song is pretty much perfect for his voice in a live setting. The line “how would I tell her that she’s all I think about, well I guess she just found out” is great in that it only really worked as intended the first time he played it and is now a funny little anecdote. I also love how he changes up the vocal and goes up at the end of that line, breaking the pattern of the rest of the song.

Two Ghosts: I can tell this was written four years ago. Maybe I say that because I knew when it was written before I listened, I don’t know. It’s just a lot more reminiscent of his older stuff. I love the chorus and the layered vocals. “We’re just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me” is a pretty nice piece of lyric.

Sweet Creature: This song is so pretty. I think it’s a shame that it’s one of my favourites and I still don’t know what to really say about it. I do love how general it is in that it can so easily be applied to so many types of love.

Only Angel: The intro to this song is the best thing. I love the hints we get of the hook breaking through the atmospheric piano intro, and how it becomes louder and louder until it takes over and the guitar and drums kick in. “Open up your eyes, shut your mouth and see, I’m still the only one whose been in love with me” is such a bomb opener, what even. I love. it. It’s very reminiscent of Rolling Stones. Very catchy. I much love it.  His voice is also made for this song. Is he singing “wanna die tonight” on the bridge?

Kiwi: A little bit ridiculous. A little bit shouty. Kinda fun. The chorus is alright, but I really enjoy the verses and his choices for rhymes. Why is it called Kiwi? Do we know? I will forever be curious. I love the change up on the “kinda into it” line in the second chorus. I am also weirdly into listening to harry emphatically shouting “it’s none of your business”, even if it’s entirely out of context.

Ever Since New York: This is such a contrast to the brash sound of Kiwi. It is a bit repetitive, but I love the guitar melody and I like the softness of it. My favourite bit is the line “I’ve been praying, never did before, understand I’m talking to the walls, I’ve been praying ever since New York”. I enjoy that this song and Kiwi both have explicit references to New York, but tell such different stories.

Woman: The stutter effect on the third repetition of woman in the chorus and how it adds to the rhythm of the song is pretty nice. I enjoy that the chorus contrasts with the really smooth, slow sound of the verses. That being said, I mostly just hear the sound effect that sounds like a duck when I listen to this now. It’s possible that he shouldn’t have shared that story on national radio.

From the Dining Table: This is my favourite. I love how incredibly soft the vocals are on this song. Especially on the line “even my phone misses your call by the way”. The simple instrumentals where you can hear the fingers strumming the strings of the guitar. I love how the harmonies slowly build and how the vocals are layered on top of each other one by one as the violin kicks in on the bridge. It’s funny how a song that starts off singing about masturbation can still punch me in the heart, but that’s where we’re at.

 

So yeah, I’m pretty happy with this. Pretty obsessed with this album. Still loving Harry Styles. I can’t wait to see him in London in October!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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