Harry's House review: Harry Styles gently nudges the expectations of what pop should sound like

·3 min read

Who is Harry Styles?

Gallons of ink and billions of pixels have been spent trying to answer that question over the past 12 years, ever since the English singer first appeared on TV screens as a contestant on Britain's The X Factor. During that time he's crisscrossed the globe as part of a boy band and as a solo artist, broken into acting, and established himself as one of the world's biggest boldfaced names. That he's somehow managed to retain an air of mystery through all this — even as phalanxes of journalists and social media sleuths have attempted to dive into every aspect of his life — is a testament to not just his charm, but his modern-day savvy.

Now Styles is ready to let listeners into his home — or rather, his 13-song representation of it. Harry's House, Styles' third album, is a pop album because of the stature of its star. But like its effervescent lead single, "As It Was," it gently nudges the expectations of what pop should sound like in 2022. It has the mood of a laid-back afternoon sifting through a friend's impeccably assembled if interestingly organized record collection, with the singer slyly dropping hints about his day-to-day — the maturation of his wine tastes, his breakfast order, his preferred party favors — over songs that share a vibe more than they do a particular musical aesthetic.

The cover of Harry Styles' album 'Harry's House'
The cover of Harry Styles' album 'Harry's House'

Columbia Records The cover of Harry Styles' album 'Harry's House'

"Music for a Sushi Restaurant," which opens the door to Harry's House, is a slippery, giddy slice of lite-funk that builds on the success of Fine Line's "Watermelon Sugar"; Styles scats and showcases his falsetto as he free-associates and declares, "I love you babe / In every kind of way," with blasts of brass further signifying his over-the-moonness. "Daydreaming" has a similar vibe, spinning out a vocal sample from the Brothers Johnson's 1978 cut "Ain't We Funkin' Now" into a post-rendezvous fever dream, Styles whooping and yelping with such fervor that his waving arms and big grin are rendered nearly visible.

Styles has put together an album that's so solid, even moments that would be cringeworthy when handled by lesser pop stars feel earned. "Cinema" — a roller-rink-appropriate come-on in which Styles beckons to a would-be lover with a simply stated "I just think you're cool" — rhymes "I bring the pop to the cinema" with "You pop when we get intimate" as its outro wiggles to a close; the wide-eyed hesitancy of the verses anticipates that tongue-tiedness when things get heated, and the result is charmingly humanizing — or at least as down-to-earth as a song that credits John Mayer as a session player can get.

Harry's House is also emotionally heavy at times, with Styles' understated delivery adding power to his plainspoken lyrics. "Matilda" is a gorgeously arranged acoustic ballad where Styles offers comfort to the title character, whose childhood was marked by neglect and abuse; the vocal harmonies on the bridge imbue the song with a spiritual power, Styles reflecting his friend's internal strength back toward her. On "Boyfriends," a campfire sing-along about frustrating relationships, the vexations Styles sings about ("You love a fool who knows just how to get under your skin") never get resolved — but as anyone who's lived through them knows, merely speaking about romance woes can bring solace.

Since his first solo album, Styles has defied the idea of what post-boy-band life should look like, retaining his megastardom while creating his own space within pop's always changing landscape. On Harry's House, he lets his guard down even further, digging into his musical curiosities while offering glimpses at his mind's workings and worries — and letting the world know that he's going to navigate pop stardom on his own terms. Grade: A-

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