Now that One Direction is over, sorry, “on hiatus”, it’s time for the same trial by fire that every former boyband member goes through. It’s time to grow the hair out, get some tattoos and piercings, and grow a perma-stubble to show the world how grown-up they are now, and how this new them is the “real” they. In the meantime, let’s pray that the fans are still madly infatuated with them and haven’t moved on to some other young meat in the market. Harry Styles, perhaps wisely, plays it safe and comes up with a self-titled debut that is the closest, so far, to an extension of One Direction’s musical direction if they hadn’t broken up. In other words, he still lifts elements and riffs from more established acts, and stirs them together to create a pleasant, if bland stew.
The lead single Sign of the Times is Elton John meets Oasis and they all had an orgy with Coldplay – this is the spawn that resulted, and it’s really hard to tell whom the father is. Carolina seems like it lost its way while heading to a Blur album and has regretted its mistake ever since. Two Ghosts is every MOR ballad that plagued the radio in the 1970s and 1980s: Genesis, John Mellencamp, and such. I like Sweet Creature, which is probably the best song of the lot, but I wonder whether it’s because the guitar in the background reminds me so much of something Joni Mitchell would come up with; also, I am sure Ed Sheeran had done a variation of this song at least five times already. And so on and on.
Hence, Harry Styles feels more like a technically proficient covers album than anything else. That’s the problem, really. Why listen to Only Angel when Journey already has fourteen studio albums for me to choose from? Who cares about Harry Styles? Well, maybe if he were cheap enough to be hired to perform at some teen’s birthday party – the complete set of Glee! tunes, for instance – I suppose. Otherwise, this one is the epitome of take it or leave it. Either way, it doesn’t matter much in the larger scheme of things. Ed Sheeran’s existence already renders Mr Styles obsolete and irrelevant.