With a monster debut that could possibly hold up as the year’s biggest, the increasingly genre-fluid and universally appealing Harry Styles’ third album comes in the wake of his cementing himself as the perceived alternative, rock-leaning and visually adventurous pop star to watch with 2019’s Fine Line. While many have justifiably accused Styles’ work to be relatively faceless, as he tries on quite a few different outfits and doesn’t have the most distinctive singing voice, with every turn he’s also made some undeniably and unexpectedly solid tunes that warrant replay after replay. On Harry’s House, the former bubblegum-pop boyband star turns back towards pop euphoria more than ever since the dissolution of the one-time juggernaut, giving quite a few of these tracks a funk sheen and some more soulful melodies while mostly aligning himself with the current 80s synthpop revival. While it’s true that there’s a lot of similar-sounding music out there, there’s something about Styles’ delivery that bleeds the effortless cool and carefree attitude that a post-pandemic world needs. The style is trendy for a reason – it’s an endlessly fun playground to run around in, and Styles’ pop instincts are well-suited.
For someone that’s capable of making the polished pieces of pop perfection that appear later on in the album’s tracklist, it’s always proved baffling to me that the fan favourite Styles tracks often appear to be the songs coloured by cheesy, obnoxious bombast as he lets a more unhinged side of himself out. While it’s a fun reflection of his personality, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” feels so messy in comparison to the songs that come after it. With a couple of mixing issues as certain notes in complex synth runs ping too loud and blaring high harmonies come in out of nowhere, Styles fills up the space with half-rapped interludes, scatting, bizarre food-centric lyrical content, and a giant horn hook on the chorus that feels unearned amidst all the chaos. Prospective single “Late Night Talking,” on the other hand, is a beachside funk-pop banger ready to take over the warmer months. Styles’ vocals have a tender soulfulness that make his lyrics about simply catching a vibe and enjoying life with a partner all the more effective, while the quirky synth tones and rhythmic switch-up in the chorus should make it stand out from the pack on the radio waves. That melody on “I can’t get you off my mind” is already burned into my cerebral cortex. The track “Grapejuice” finds Styles putting a vintage-sounding filter on his voice that buries him a little in the mix, but it fits right in to the distinctly Beatles-esque flair at play. The chorus breaks through the vintage crackle like a ray of sunshine, Styles demonstrating some nice falsetto as he runs through some clever lyrical twists about enjoying some red wine to match his newly aflame red-coloured romance, doing away with the whites and pinks of simple infatuation.
For as much as we’ve all heard “As It Was” just about everywhere, listening to it with headphones is a surprisingly different experience that reveals just how much the album’s producers in Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson knew what they were doing. The song sounds massive and stadium-ready, the tempo overdrive sounds refreshing in the context of the album – especially the bridge – and the low end gives it the pop-rock flavour that’s unique to Styles – regardless of the somewhat valid “Take on Me” and “Blinding Lights” comparisons. “Daylight” contains a similar moment when the post-chorus explodes into crashing cymbals and blown-out guitars, serving as a nice contrast with the doo-wop flavour and constant harmonizing that gives the remainder of the track an engagingly breezy sound. Styles finds himself longing to bridge the gap in a long-distance relationship with a couple of adorable metaphors. The album’s biggest grower might be “Little Freak,” which seems minimalistic and subdued at first with its bittersweet acoustics, but it’s all the more to showcase one of the most beautiful melodies of Styles’ career as he waxes nostalgic about a fleeting younger love.
Kicking off the album’s back half with an even more toned-down number, “Matilda” is the emotional centrepiece of the project. The track contains some of Styles’ most emotionally affecting writing as he consoles a partner about their tough childhood while comparing them to Roald Dahl’s Matilda, as well as a pretty stunning bridge where his harmonic skills and a couple jazzy notes send shivers up the spine, but it’s hard to ignore a couple off-kilter and dissonant chords especially as the track nears its end. “Cinema” revives the energy with the project’s funkiest song, containing some very Nile Rodgers-esque guitar licks and a buzzing synth-bass as it hits the chorus. As Styles glides in with an “I just think you’re cool,” he captures the new-love butterflies in sonic form and offers a track to walk down the street in July wearing your most fashionable new outfit to. The steady build of the outro with the interlocking guitar parts, a killer drum riff and Styles slowly piecing together a somewhat scandalous story is the album’s best moment. “Daydreaming” feels like an unstructured jam session that keeps the funk party going and invites a horn section as Styles pushes the limits of his vocals. Sampling a 70s funk track and featuring John Mayer on guitar, it has the chaotic energy of the opening track but with a lot more fun talent on display.
While some of the techniques start to become a little obvious by the end as a song like “Satellite” suddenly kicks up into a falsetto funk-pop track, but each track still contains a truly memorable melody and most have a fun song concept – in this case, Styles as the satellite looking down and admiring the planet of his affection while on the outskirts. The project’s final moments contain some of its most touching tracks as well. “Keep Driving” is a short and sweet song about finding solace in your partner when the world is going insane around you, Styles’ voice sounding a little tearful and exhausted as he offers some catharsis, while “Boyfriends” is another acoustic track about how he laments seeing so many relationships that aren’t as full of genuine love as they should be. The project concludes with “Love of My Life,” a dedication to the hometown he finds himself away from too often as of late.
While it might have been clear to many who the most likely breakout star from his old group may have been, it was still a little difficult to foresee Styles’ metamorphosis into a pop star for the people, straddling the line between the trendy and avant-garde with three solid albums under his belt. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Favourite Tracks: Cinema, Late Night Talking, As It Was, Little Freak, Grapejuice
Least Favourite Track: Music For A Sushi Restaurant