Music Critic Anna Emmerson Robinson reviews Harry Styles’ latest album calling it a brilliant, drug-fuelled 80’s trip through his love life
Harry Styles has released his third studio album to critical acclaim. Fans have waited a long time for the One Direction member to release new music. Ahead of his upcoming UK and Europe tour for his previous album, Fine Line, which was delayed due to Covid, fans are preparing to sing his new songs at the performances taking place in June. Speaking to Zane Lowe, Styles suggested that the title for the album, Harry’s House, was less about a physical house as the album art would suggest and more about a personal home, as he stated ‘home is an internal thing’. With this in mind, the album feels homely in a sense, with a deeply intimate level of song-writing that reveals much about Styles’ love life and relationships. Many of the songs have an 80’s feel to them, as though we are transported back to the heyday of pop music.
The album is designed to be listened to in the order it appears, with the first and last songs creating a loop back to each other. The opening track, ‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’, brings an upbeat opening to an album that features some heavily emotional songs. The funk backing, techno undertones and booming horns come together to create something loud and something to dance to. The title was inspired by Styles hearing one of his own songs in a sushi restaurant and thinking it was a strange song for the setting. In some ways, this song feels strange within the album as it feels perhaps better suited to the ‘Watermelon Sugar’ era of Fine Line. However, the lyrics match others on the album and Styles’ wider repertoire as the subliminally sexual lyrics talk about his attraction to the other person.
The next song, ‘Late Night Talking’, feels much more intimate as he sings of the late night discussions with a loved one, wanting to comfort and help them through the difficult times they share with you. Slated to be the next single from the album, ‘Late Night Talking’ feels comfortable and homely, with the synth adding a layer of happiness to a song about concern and care. The song, written for Styles’ girlfriend Olivia Wilde, was first performed at Coachella and immediately went viral on TikTok. The reassuring lyrics and upbeat backing ensure the start of the album is uplifting, ensuring the listener continues. ‘Grapejuice,’ the third song, feels dreamy and the piano in the background adds to the ethereal quality of the song. Opening with Styles counting in the song, there is a long opening before the lyrics begin. The lyrics echo around the instruments and we begin to feel the 80’s vibes of the album coming through. As Styles sings of sharing a bottle of wine with a loved one, we hear him begin to get drunk in his lyrics, as the alcohol and drugs take over the album. In this song, he also states ‘I’m so over whites and pinks,’ which fans have speculated suggests he is over his Fine Line era and ready to move onto the next album – this one.
The debut single from the album, ‘As It Was,’ is next. The song currently has over 601 million streams on Spotify, cementing it as one of Styles’ most popular songs. The upbeat backing drumming and swelling bells and chimes sound reminiscent of a wedding or celebration. The lyrics, however, speak of a complex emotional journey as he sings of his relationship with fame and how his life has changed since skyrocketing to fame in One Direction. The bridge is faster-paced than the rest of the song and creates a shift as he recalls his past as a boyband star.
‘Daylight’ – which Styles recently made a music video for with friend James Corden – is a romantic song about sticking with the person you love and wanting to be with them all the time, even when they are away from you. The song has quite a similar backing track to others on the album, which can make it hard to distinguish when the opening notes come in. The shifts between heavy drums and guitar and wispier synth backing instruments throughout the song break up the verses and ensure this tune will be popular over the summer.
The album then takes a sharp shift into a section of melancholy beginning with heartbreak anthem ‘Little Freak’. The layered vocals and heartbeat backing rhythm creates a deeply intimate song as we enter Styles’ mind as he thinks about a lost lover. The sense of nostalgia in this song is clear as he reflects on a past relationship and wonders how the ex-partner is doing. In this song, Styles is expressing pain and regret through imagery, but it doesn’t feel obvious. The subtle nuances of their relationship such as the ‘ginger beer’ makes it personal to whomever he is singing about, whilst also ensuring listeners can relate to the heartbreak. With each listen, the song seems to become sadder as different elements come to light. Styles, within the lyrics, accepts that he was the reason for the end of the relationship. It feels refreshing to hear a male artist take responsibility within their music and create a vulnerable and open piece of music.
‘Matilda’ immediately follows ‘Little Freak’ and sticks to the sad theme of this section of the album. The song was written about someone who was suffering and opened up to Styles, but he has disguised their identity as Matilda from the Roald Dahl book, who was mistreated by her family but had magical powers. The acoustic guitar creates an indie feel on a pop album and is similar to artists such as Daughter. The song is not instrument or synth heavy and instead focuses on the vocals and the important message they hold. The song ensures the person knows Styles was listening but does not make it about him, as he encourages them to start a family of their own.
Following this interlude of emotional songs, Styles shifts back to the 80s with a very sexual song about his relationship with Olivia Wilde. The title, ‘Cinema,’ is a nod to her job as a film director, as he sings ‘I bring the pop [music]’ and ‘You got the cinema.’ The blending of their two careers within the lyrics implies the blending of them as their relationship progresses. The overtly sexual lyrics are definitely not family-friendly but the synth backing and guitar creates an 80’s feel. The instruments are slow and sensual to match the lyrics and the layering of repeated phrases creates almost a ‘climax’ within the song. As he sings of his love for his partner, the love continues with ‘Daydreaming’. This is much more upbeat than the previous song, but still has an 80’s infusion. Styles collaborated with Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon on this album to create something funky. Daydreaming samples the 1978 song ‘Ain’t We Funkin’ Now’ by Brothers Johnson as Styles sings about craving love from a partner. Inspired by a previous era of musicians, this song cements the album as being 80’s funk and groove inspired.
One of the key memories of the 80’s is the use of drugs by many musicians. In the next song, ‘Keep Driving’, this is overtly mentioned within the lyrics. The song feels like going on a road trip – or another kind of trip – and the feeling of escape when driving along. The bridge is so different to the verses with lyrical groupings that come together to form a wider image of a relationship. Many of these groupings feel a bit nonsensical such as ‘wine glass, puff pass’ and ‘cocaine, side boob.’ The frequent mentions of drugs within this song creates a more mature image of Styles as someone who has grown up and is enjoying certain recreations. The bridge feels similar to Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ in terms of its lyrical listing. This is one of the shortest songs on the album but definitely packs a punch.
The next song became an immediate fan favourite on the album. ‘Satellite’ has a sombre beginning but becomes more upbeat at the chorus with a catchy hook. Towards the end of the song, it becomes overwhelming as the music swells and the lyrics layer over one another. The lyrics talk about feeling distance between Styles and another person and they fail to see he is there waiting for them. The penultimate song on the album, ‘Boyfriends,’ was also originally performed at Coachella. The song begins with the phrase ‘fool you’re back at it again’ played in reverse. A motif of Harry’s music is to begin songs with something unique, such as the voice note at the start of ‘As It Was’. The song feels almost like a lullaby with a slow guitar backing played by Ben Harper on the same guitar played on the other two albums. The lyrics lament boyfriends who mistreat their partners. Styles has noted that he acknowledges his own behaviour within the song and the behaviour of others he has witnessed such as towards his sister and friends. He stated in the Zane Lowe interview that watching people date, they ‘don’t always treat each other nicely.’
Despite this, the final song on the album ends the loop of love songs as he sings ‘Love Of My Life’. The deeply emotional lyrics are juxtaposed with a more upbeat backing track. His voice is deeper in this song and more emotional as he sings of someone he has lost who was the love of his life, but he did not realise it at the time. The song comes full circle from the opening track as we take on this journey through love and relationships with Styles. The song curates quite a sad ending to the album, particularly with the final piano notes. Similar to the ending of ‘Fine Line’, the piano rounds the album off rather than any lyrics being the final thing.
With many of the songs featuring heavy synth backings, the 80’s inspiration and funk rhythms throughout the album creates a nod to the past. The frequent mention of drugs and sex feels slightly unnatural for a previous boyband member, but also ensures we see Styles as a mature independent musician who can sing about anything. The lyrics are poetic even when also deeply sexual. What I enjoyed most about the album was that the meanings were not overtly obvious. Many pop songs give a lot of explanation within the lyrics, but Styles ensures his lyrics make you think about what he’s saying in subtle ways. The house we enter when we listen to the album feels welcoming and largely upbeat and like a space for everyone. As Styles recently said when reading a CBeebies bedtime story, ‘it’s love that turns wherever you live into a home’. The album feels like that – a listing full of love songs that brings warmth and a homely feeling to the listener, enveloping them in the song-writing of Styles.
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