Harry's heading off in all sorts of directions: Eponymous solo debut from the 1D star is an engaging effort, writes ADRIAN THRILLS
Harry Styles (Columbia)
Verdict: Engaging solo debut from 1D star
With that mop of hair and his impressive vocal range, Harry Styles was always destined to be One Direction's biggest solo star.
He has bided his time since the world's most successful pop act began a hiatus a year ago, but this debut offering suggests his career is now heading in a very different direction.
Make that lots of different directions. Having auditioned for The X Factor as a solo artist in 2010, Harry inevitably made some musical compromises after he joined Niall, Zayn, Liam and Louis in a boy band. Now 23, he is casting the net wide to find his own voice.
Across ten songs here, he tries his hand at whimsical psychedelia, introspective folk, retro pop and screeching rock.
With that mop of hair and his impressive vocal range, Harry Styles (pictured) was always destined to be One Direction's biggest solo star
There are times when the result is a jumbled hotchpotch, but there's also something admirable about his determination to escape his manufactured pop roots without taking himself too seriously.
Styles made this album, out today, in Los Angeles and Jamaica with producer Jeff Bhasker, a Berklee-trained jazz pianist with an ear for gospel and soul. As a sideman to American R&B superstars Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars, Bhasker seems an unlikely choice for a young Brit raised in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, but their partnership generally works a treat.
One Direction's forte was catchy, harmony-driven chart pop, but the quintet toyed with more mature rock influences after 2013's third album Midnight Memories. Those instincts come to the fore now Harry is on his own.
One of the most striking songs is Only Angel, a barefaced Rolling Stones pastiche that is packaged complete with Keef-like riffs, a cowbell and woo-hoos straight out of Sympathy For The Devil.
The number also gives Styles a chance to emphasise his wannabe bad-boy credentials, as he waxes lyrical about a girl who 'you couldn't take home to mother in a skirt that short'. It's not just his hairstyle that owes something to the young Mick Jagger.
Rock references abound elsewhere, too, with hints of Beck's The New Pollution on Carolina and some Benny And The Jets-style piano on Woman.
Ever Since New York looks to the Seventies folk-rock pioneers of California's Laurel Canyon. With Harry taking on both lead and backing vocal duties, the song finds him playing the parts of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all by himself.
Styles (pictured) made this album, out today, in Los Angeles and Jamaica with producer Jeff Bhasker
He even makes the odd instrumental contribution, messing around on the omnichord, an electronic novelty popular in the Eighties, on the psychedelic opener Meet Me In The Hallway. But if he is comfortable on the lively pop and rock songs, his ballads are hit-and-miss. The overwrought Sign Of The Times began life as an intimate piano piece and should have stayed that way.
The acoustic Sweet Creature wanders into Ed Sheeran terrain, though Harry's voice retains too much of its puppyish edge to be convincing on a reflective folk tune.
He fares better on Two Ghosts, digging out his omnichord again for a ballad about obsession, and closing track From The Dining Table, another song that addresses darker, grown-up emotional themes above acoustic guitar and strings.
Those searching for candid asides about Harry's romantic capers are in for a let-down. Having made an unchivalrous reference to a fling with Taylor Swift on One Direction's Perfect two years ago, he confines himself to the depictions of his louche, party-loving lifestyle that surface on Carolina and Only Angel.
It's too early for that big, confessional record anyway. And, while greater originality would have been welcome, this is a mixed, but engaging, solo debut.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK?
A Kind Revolution (Parlophone)
Paul Weller maintains his late-career renaissance with a diverse and superbly realised set of songs
Forty years on from the May 1977 release of The Jam's first album, Paul Weller maintains his late-career renaissance with a diverse and superbly realised set of songs.
A Kind Revolution isn't as boldly experimental as the trilogy launched by 2008's 22 Dreams, but a rediscovery of Weller's rock and soul roots gives him the platform to shine as singer and songwriter.
The soul influences that powered his first post-Jam band, The Style Council, are reprised on Woo Sé Mama, the song's indelible New Orleans groove enhanced by veteran American divas P.P. Arnold and Madeline Bell. Other guests include Robert Wyatt, who supplies jazzy trumpet on the lean funk of She Moves With The Fayre, and Boy George, who brings a soulful sheen to dreamy house track One Tear.
Weller's own singing is rich and deep on yearning ballad Long Long Road, while the gospel-tinged The Cranes Are Back draws an optimistic parallel between returning long-necked birds and the hopes for the future embodied by London's construction boom.
For Jam revivalists, there are crunching chords on Nova, while some neat blues-rock touches from Irish guitarist Josh McClorey round off a commanding return.?
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