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Harry Styles’s new song Sign of the Times is David Bowie via Oasis

“I think its hard to not have influences from what you grew up listening to.”

One Direction and classic rock aren’t often put side-by-side, but they probably should be. As Brodie Lancaster notes in this detailed analysis of the influences behind One Direction’s last album, Made in the AM, the band “slowly established a pattern of picking up inspiration from rock history” as their releases developed. Harry Styles, in particular has made his interest in classic rock clear in everything from his dress sense to his gig choices – and now, with the release of his new single, “Sign of the Times”, it’s more obvious than ever.

“I think it’s hard to not have influences from what you grew up listening [to],” Harry told Nick Grimshaw on Radio 1 this morning, just after the song debuted. “I had a good mix between my mum and my dad, because my dad was into, like, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Queen; while my mum was like, Norah Jones and Savage Garden.”

“Sign of the Times” continues in that vein. “He delivered a true spacey rock ballad,” declares Billboard, “something that might fit in more with David Bowie’s catalogue or perhaps even an epic Nineties rock jam like Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” than it does with today’s top 40”.

Yes there’s lots of Bowie in there. And if the lyrics seem familiar – it’s because they are. Obviously, there’s that Prince reference, but there’s more, too. Let’s break it down.

Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times

Those first chords sound a lot like Robbie Williams’s “Angels”, but then we get a whooshy noise straight out of "Space Oddity". What an opener. David Bowie’s “Five Years” meets Oasis’s “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”.

Welcome to the final show
Hope you’re wearing your best clothes

I’m in yesterday’s t-shirt, if I’m honest, Harry. This has something of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” with its doomsday glamour: “He’s in the best-selling show”.

You can’t bribe the door on your way to the sky

Ah, the old “heaven as a nightclub” metaphor. Makes me think of  The Stone Roses’s “Breaking Into Heaven” and Alex Turner’s lyric: “It’s like you’re trying to get to heaven in a hurry / And the queue was shorter than you’d thought it would be / And the doorman says, ‘You need to get a wristband’."

You look pretty good down here
But you ain’t really good

Your looks won’t save you come the end of the world, as we know from Lana Del Rey.

We never learn, we been here before
Why are we always stuck and running from the bullet?
The bullet
We never learn, we been here before
Why are always stuck and running from your bullet?
A bullet

Enter falsetto. Finally, the mix of Foster the People and “Heroes” the public have been waiting for. There’s also a hint of Radiohead’s “Daydreaming”.

Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of times
We gotta get away from here
We gotta get away from here
Just stop your crying it will be alright
They told me that the end is near
We gotta get away from here

Just stop your crying, have the time of your life
Breaking through the atmosphere
And things are pretty good from here
Remember everything will be alright
We can meet again somewhere
Somewhere far away from here

“It’s fine, it’s only the apocalypse, darling.” Basically. This is the part that sounds the most Bowie – lyrically, "Watchtower"’s “There must be some kind of way outta here” with the stretched out diphthong  of “aways” on Oasis’s “Don’t Go Away” and “Stand By Me”. There’s a Drop of Jupiter in here somewhere, too.

We don’t talk enough
We should open up
Before it’s all too much
Will we ever learn?
We been here before
Its just what we know

Like that “bullet” bridge, there’s an overarching futility here lyrically similar to Bastille’s “Pompeii” and Coldplay’s “We Never Change”.

It’s a dense call-back to rock of decades past, and, to the casual observer, it might seem like a huge departure from Styles's earlier work. But, as culture writer Lancaster notes, it won’t seem as much of a leap to dedicated One Direction fans.


Now listen to a discussion of Harry Styles’ new single on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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