Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
Three albums into his solo career, Harry Styles has predictably become one of his generation’s most admired and trustworthy musicians. Managing to quickly shed his boyband image with his self-titled 2017 debut album could have been making a case for male privilege, but Styles has more than proven himself worthy of headlines with his flair for retro influences and flamboyant stage presence. His pop-focused second studio effort Fine Line continued this vintage narrative, quickly establishing him with a voice and airplay that suggested he could be from this decade or a past one. But his third LP Harry’s House is an intimate bedroom soundtrack that experiments with new wave and folk in a way that only further showcases his versatility as a performer.
Upon first listen, the album’s lead single “As It Was” didn’t feel like anything special. But when heard multiple times over, there’s vulnerability between the lines of the diverse and edgy hooks that dominate Styles’ solo music. The singer later clarified that the song was inspired in part by his realization of the ways that the pandemic irreparably changed the world—who we were yesterday is not who we will be tomorrow. Although Harry’s House is mostly composed of down-tempo but somehow not depressing beats, this is where the record finds its hook: despite all of us and the world being in a constant state of change, all we have is whatever and wherever we call home. With this record, Styles is inviting us into his.
Styles’ existing fanbase needed no introduction when he launched a solo career, but his trajectory into a sound that appeals to both teen and adult contemporary demographic places him among few other modern pop artists, safe for perhaps Stevie Nicks, Shania Twain, or Adele. An album composed of comforting numbing pop needs no justification in an anxious age such as our own, but for Styles, his propensity for eclectic influences remains front and center on a folk and funk-inspired record. But there are moments where he drops the so-called façade, getting intimate with the listener in a way he hasn’t before.
Against the backdrop of an acoustic guitar, he sings and pleads with a young woman to escape her unloving family on “Matilda,” whose namesake easily lends itself to the Road Dahl character of the same name. Elsewhere, Styles employs a random and loose style of songwriting to form poetic glimpses into life on “Cinema” and “Satellite,” and “Late Night Talking” serves as the perfect second single for an album that would have otherwise been cast aside as more Gen Z bedroom pop if it hadn’t been made by a wide talent such as Harry Styles.
With Harry’s House, the singer sounds less concerned with exposure and chart performance and more at peace with his own artistry, preferring to invite its listener over for a cup of tea rather than to bombard them with earworms. In fact, he demonstrates his true affinity for modern pop with his latest effort, as he stands out amidst an ever-growing collection of informal, pandemic-influenced bedroom offerings. “We don’t really like what’s on the news, but it’s on all the time,” he notes on closer “Love of My Life.” The ability to find peace in the darkness is a skill we’ve all had to develop, and Styles does it seamlessly.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Harry’s House: “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” “Late Night Talking,” “As It Was,” “Little Freak,” “Matilda,” “Cinema,” and “Satellite”