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7 April 2017updated 26 Apr 2017 10:19am

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

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

By Anna Leszkiewicz


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.

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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:

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