Harry Styles review, Harry’s House: Navigating grief and regret with a funk soul panache

As ‘Harry’s House’ flings open the doors of its party garage, Styles navigates this confusing emotional territory with a funk shuffle and future soul panache worthy of the Purple One himself

Mark Beaumont
Tuesday 17 May 2022 08:24
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<p>Harry Styles in artwork for his new album </p>

Harry Styles in artwork for his new album

Since shedding his boyband past to go a bit Stereophonics on 2017’s “Sign of the Times”, Harry Styles has broadened the horizons of his pop fanbase with two sophisticated albums. He’s touched on psych pop, future funk, indie rock, classic folk, and even a spot of prog. In 2019, he addressed his split from Victoria’s Secret model Camille Rowe on Fine Line by channelling the essence of Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac into very modern songs of sex and heartbreak.

As the tabloids froth over the possibility of an imminent proposal to new girlfriend Olivia Wilde, though, third album Harry’s House doesn’t yet profile the Dundatin’ pop star lifestyle of honeymoons in St Tropez and a separate limo for the au pair. It exists in the chaotic and self-destructive hinterland between affairs, where grief and regret battle the flush of new romance, nights blur and addictions take root. Answer the phone, Harry, you’re no good alone,” goes first single “As it Was”, “What kind of pills are you on?”

Prince pills, it turns out. As Harry’s House flings open the doors of its party garage, Styles navigates this confusing emotional territory with a funk shuffle and future soul panache worthy of the Purple One himself, while keeping one eye on the retro-modernist appeal of Silk Sonic and The Weeknd. Opener “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”, in which Styles memorably compares the object of his affection to a teppanyaki grill (“green eyes, fried rice, I could cook an egg on you”), would be far better suited to a particularly jumping Latin soul food joint, for instance. Meanwhile, the disco angst of “Late Night Talking” comes across like a Samaritans helpline manned by Bruno Mars.

Styles hasn’t elevated himself – critically, creatively and commercially – above his former One Direction bandmates, booked 10 nights at Madison Square Garden and achieved a Justin Timberlake leap to mature artist respect by chasing safe mainstream options, of course. Harry’s House contains far more interesting and uniquely appointed quarters than these rowdy reception rooms. “As it Was” itself is what would have happened if The Strokes had written “Take On Me” about prescription drug abuse. “Grapefruit”, “Little Freak” and “Daylight” find long-term Styles collaborator Kid Harpoon bringing his narcotic alt-pop buzz and crackle to a clutch of lustrous soul and R&B tunes. And “Matilda” is subtle and sensitive singer-songwriting in the Mitchell mode, a touching ode to an unloved child struggling to connect in the adult world.

A couple of lightweight cocktail pop numbers in “Cinema” and Daydreaming” threaten to kill the thrill of the record, until “Keep Driving” arrives in a blur of Hollywood shutter-clicks. “Cocaine, side-boob, a joker with a seaview,” Styles sings, as snapshot images of LA living tumble around a piece of scintillating space pop.

It’s this ability to transcend the expectations we’d apply to lesser ex-boyband talents that has helped Styles twist and side-step his way to solo acclaim.Harry’s House closes out with a trio of minor masterclasses. “Satellite” grooves along as another lounge bar standard until, in the closing minute, someone spikes its martini with a dose of whatever MGMT are on. “Boyfriends” is gorgeous, multi-harmony acoustic folk that realises the teenage panic-dream that one of One Direction might ever want to sound like early Gerry Rafferty. And rather than end on a schmaltz-blasted ballad, the muted electronica of “Love of My Life” suggests that Harry’s future ambitions might include a Bon Iver collaboration.

Having taken the full tour, Harry’s House feels more like a boutique Airbnb designed in a through-the-ages musical theme; there’s somewhere here for everyone to lay their head. Su casa, nuestra casa.

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