14 May 2017

Harry Styles - Sign of the Times (album review)

The two biggest selling albums of 2017 in the UK so far are Ed Sheeran’s Divide and Human by Rag’n’Bone Man. These days it feels like there are two paths to commercial success either jump on a tropical house instrumental, with some Rihanna style dancehall vocals, or be an authentic everyman like the two previously mentioned. You can imagine Ed slopping from town to town busking to pay his bills. The ginger neo-minstrel is just so dedicated to his noble trade and he could never do anything but music and above all he’s a nice guy. A lovely guy. Very nice.

But maybe... FUCK OFF! I’m sick of nice guys, I’m sick of albums so harmless, so dull, that they make the idea of an evening watching paint dry sound like an enticing experience.

And so I’m sick of people like Harry Styles, and albums like Harry Styles. One Direction put out some fantastic singles brilliant catchy fun pop music that everyone can enjoy. Now in a measly attempt to be taken more ‘seriously’ as an artist, he’s become another Ed Sheeran or even a James Bay. Now in all fairness to Harry, the music on this album sits three or four stories above the music released by those two, and does pull from a more eclectic and interesting palate of influence, but that isn’t enough to nearly rescue the record.

The opening track, Meet Me in the Hallway, seems to take influence from Radiohead and Pink Floyd. However, not directly - the musical ideas have been through a few filters before hit the mind of Mr Styles. Bands like Keane and Snow Patrol took heavy influence from these bands (Radiohead in particular), so the opening track is a kind of Grandson of OK Computer, but the son of Somewhere Only We Know. The instrumental on this track is very pleasant, but that’s as much as you can say. I don’t mind when it’s playing, but I forget it as soon as its stopped.

The album's lead single and centrepiece, Sign Of The Times, is truly dreadful. Its atmospheric and “emotive” piano chords make it sound like a hybrid of an X Factor winners song and one of those John Lewis Christmas Ad Covers. The track Only Angel begins with this beautiful concoction of lush ambient sounds which at first reminded me of something that would have appeared on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, but never have my hopes been crushed so much in a matter of seconds as this song falls from grace in a hilarious fashion. With a tacky attempt at a 70s style guitar riff and some equally tacky ‘Woo Hoo’s’ in the back, it's nothing short of embarrassing.

Lyrics like “I’ll have you stuck in between my teeth and there’s nothing you can do about it” make me feel utterly repulsed, and this isn’t the only time Harry’s lyricism comes off as downright creepy. Whether it be on Kiwi, “and now she’s all over me it’s like I paid for it”, or singing “she’s a good girl” in true Robin Thicke fashion on the track Carolina. Harry’s vocals however are nowhere near as cringey as the gang backing vocals he incorporates on these songs; they add nothing and just sound half hearted, and the fact they're much worse than even Harry's speaks volumes.

The fact that I think Ever Since New York sounds like a rejected cut from Coldplay’s Parachutes is a compliment at this point is all you really need to know. I do find this album's final three songs to be its strongest run. I like the punchy piano and and bass combination on the track Woman, it’s perhaps the one time Harry succeeds in creating the sensual feel he’s been going for with the whole record. The final track is kind of sweet, even if it does sound like Catfish and The Bottlemen acoustic ballad, as the strings and vocals are a lot more ear pleasing then anything Van and his band of top lads could ever create.

This is terrible; it’s like Harry wants to appeal to the Dads who were dragged along to the One Direction stadium shows. Pick this up at the vinyl section at your local Sainsbury’s, if you have a soft spot for boring run off the mill pop rock that takes its self way too seriously and thinks it’s a lot better than it is.


(Words: Aimee Armstrong)