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18 May 2022

Harry Styles’ new album is a summery, Eighties-infused poolside record

The best songs on Harry’s House feel like a brief tickle of cool air on a warm, lazy day.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

In a recent magazine cover interview for Better Homes & Gardens, the writer profiling Harry Styles acknowledged that almost everyone who meets him describes him as “breezy”. The charismatic pop star — once a favourite member of the boyband One Direction, now a more alternative, at times rock-adjacent artist — is clearly in possession of an easy, boyish charm that has won over everyone from teenage Directioners to their Pink Floyd or Shania Twain-obsessed parents. Even the fact that the one print interview he gave to publicise his new album, Harry’s House, was to a homes magazine speaks to this brand of winking nonchalance.

“Breezy” also sums up the sound of Harry’s House, his third album as a solo artist, released on Friday 20 May. This is an Eighties-infused poolside soundtrack, and its best songs feel like a brief tickle of cool air on a warm, lazy day. “I’m in an LA mood,” he sings on “Satellite”, and it shows. “Cinema”, a funk-inflected slow groove, sounds like the kind of song that could soundtrack a surprise dance sequence in a quirky indie movie, and appears to be an ode to his girlfriend, the film director Olivia Wilde. (“I just think you’re cool/I dig your cinema… You got the cinema/I bring the pop”.)

It’s an intimate, quietly romantic sort of album. Styles almost seems to invite the listener on a series of dates: “Take a walk on Sunday through the afternoon”; “Maybe we’ll do this again”; “Should we just keep driving?” After the playful, euphoric rush of his 2020 hit “Watermelon Sugar” comes the mellower “Grapejuice”, which has late Beatles-esque layered harmonies and touches of vocal distortion. Styles is fuzzy and low in the mix when he sings about spending a sunny day in the garden with a 1982 bottle of red wine, wishing he “could hide away/In a corner of the heath” with a lover. On the hazy “Daylight”, he sings, “You be the spoon/Dip you in honey so I could be sticking to you”. (As well as red wine and honey, there are references to ginger ale, maple syrup, egg yolks. There is something pleasingly fluid and oozing about this record, in sound and word.)

A sense of relaxed hedonism seeps through — Styles seems hungry for all the ordinary pleasures of life. Yes, there’s a hallucinogenic feel to many tracks, but although there are a couple of references to cocaine (he’s in an LA mood, after all) there are many more mentions of breakfast foods. Lyrically, Styles repeatedly opts for an evocative jumble of discrete, contextless and often mundane images — “Green eyes, fried rice”, “coffee on the stove”, bike rides, tea and toast, light-speed internet, “Yellow sunglasses/Ash tray”. The overall effect is of sifting through a stack of Polaroid photos of someone else’s road trip.

The fundamental sex appeal of Styles’s on-stage performances sometimes feels lacking in his recorded music, including this record, but makes a strong appearance over the bright synths and heavy bassline of “Late Night Talking”. The slower tracks feel like background music to lounge around to rather than songs that demand attention, as Styles so often does in person. His sense of humour is also essential to his live shows, but is less immediately obvious here. “Boyfriends”, a choir-backed ballad about the many ways men can disappoint you, felt gleefully vindictive when Styles introduced it at Coachella in April with the comment, “To boyfriends everywhere, fuck you!” It loses that irony on the record. Elsewhere, his cheekiness shines through — the sheer silliness of the opener, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”, all up-tempo brass, is irresistible (he scats!). There’s always a party at Harry’s House, and you know you’ll get a good breakfast the morning after.

[See also: Liam Gallagher’s new album is a soporific wade through the swampy waste of Britpop]

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