‘Harry’s House’, the third studio album of British star Harry Styles is an overwhelming triumph of pop power.
A third album is often make-or-break for an artist, with Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’, Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ either breaking them into a global audience or consolidating them as world-renowned artists.
Not that Styles needs either, considering the success of his self-titled debut album and Grammy-winning sequitur ‘Fine Line’.
Whilst his first solo album was constructed like a mood board of rock inspiration, and his second reinvigorated the world of pop, both dripping with rock history references, Styles’s third album traces a new path.
In 2017, after leaving One Director eager to get away from the boyband image and prove his musical ambition, Styles began his solo career with a Queen-style ballad: ‘Sign of the Times’.
Now, the artist who dabbles in artistic pastiche and has drawn many a reference to Mick Jagger, seems to have reverted to his One Direction days.
But even Styles can’t resist showing off, with the title inspired by Japanese pop artist Haruomi Hosono’s 1973 album, Hosono House.
‘Harry’s House’ is riddled with synth-pop reminiscent of the pop he defined in One Direction, all with a mature kick of a man whose love of music remains a core tenet of not just his career but his being, too.
With the same primary players and producers from his first two record-breaking albums, multi-instrumentalists Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, and no features, Styles continues to show that he only needs himself to achieve true commercial success.
In an age where artists are now releasing singles at breakneck speeds to keep up with a world driven by streaming and social media, Styles chose to only release one song: synth-pop high-tempo hit ‘As It Was’.
The single was an instant hit, racking up millions of streams and becoming Spotify’s most streamed track in 24 hours.
Styles sings with a lightweight charm, his vocal delivery like a light dusting of icing sugar, as though he doesn’t need to exert any effort to reach the success he’s seen time and time again in his 12-year-long career.
This cool pop is evident again in fun background music tunes such as ‘Satellite’ and ‘Grapejuice’ as well as blatant love songs ‘Keep Driving’ and ‘Daylight’.
But Styles doesn’t shy away from countering this domestic bliss with songs that blast into early-80s, with ‘Music For a Sushi Restaurant’, ‘Late Night Talking’ and ‘Daydreaming’ exercising a funk-disco-soul blend with tender promise and bubblegum sweetness.
Mid-way through it would be easy for a listener to forget they’re enjoying Harry Styles and not One Direction as the sumptuously soft and vulnerably liberating ballads ‘Little Freak’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Love Of My Life’ echoes the band’s final album ‘Made in the A.M.’
But far from the seemingly innocent four albums that the band created, the soft-porn lyrics of ‘Cinema’ and almost mocking sexual fluidity of ‘Boyfriends’ show that Styles isn’t bound by band expectations, and is certainly not afraid of being open.
The record in one sounds at once warmer and more intimate than his previous records, whilst also feeling more refined – showing his evolution as an artist is far from over.
It’s like ‘Harry Styles’ was about being sexy and single, ‘Fine Line’ represented the troubles of dating and in ‘Harry’s House’ the 28-year-old has woken up one morning in a committed and stable relationship in which he feels really, truly loved.
As the singer-songwriter himself admitted, ‘Fine Line’ was about “having sex and feeling sad about it”.
This time around, Styles seems effervescently in love, getting over his sadness and basking in the sun-lit avenues of humbled fame and fortune.
But the thing is, we never really know what he’s thinking, as the well media-trained Styles continues to be as evasive in his songwriting as he is in reality.
Although various gossip columns and reluctant admittals have told us Styles is dating the director of his next film ‘Don’t Worry Darling’, Olivia Wilde, the budding actor doesn’t let too much on about the state of their relationship.
What can certainly be interpreted as joyful abstraction, his short lyrics also represent a shortcoming in songwriting ability as Styles declines to elaborate.
But, what Styles mocks-up as obvious: “it’s not the same as it was”, leading his listeners remarkably confused, he masterfully interjects with raw and intimate moments of self-awareness.
In ‘As It Was’, without hinting at what at all it was he is singing about, one verse transports us to look at Styles lonely, drugged-up, in a puddle on the floor and talking on the phone to a loved one.
It all fits into the brand that is Harry Styles: a kind, sensitive, modern music man, and one whose commercial potential is almost unrivalled.
The gender-fluid, genre-fluid megastar who encourages his (largely female) fans to “treat people with kindness”, and is often seen in a Gucci two-piece, is a rock and roll gentleman for our new age.
And with ‘Harry’s House’ debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, moving 521,500 album-equivalent units and first-week vinyl sales reaching 182,000 copies in the US, he’s breaking records being so.
‘Harry’s House’ is his most grounded, humble and fun record yet and an exploration of home amid worldwide fame, a global pandemic and a competitive music industry.
Amid all the buzz and noise, ‘Harry’s House’ certainly proves one thing: Harry Styles is only getting bigger and better.