At the dawn of Harry Styles’ solo career apart from One Direction, the pleasantly soulful pop vocalist seemed primed to become something of an early David Bowie type, one whose gentle tones and wispy productions matched those of Hunky Dory and Space Oddity. Such charming music from such a charming boy—had that been maintained—would have been a welcome sound, as too few young artists know how to spell “savoir faire” and “subtlety,” let alone possess them.
Changing things up a tad for 2019’s Fine Line, however, Styles moved into slickly modern-vintage R&B, gilded Americana, Prince-ly pop-funk, and whatever the fuck “Watermelon Sugar” was. The record was still good, less because of its invention and more so in its way of following everything that Mark Ronson or Bruno Mars touched previously.
Bringing us up to Harry’s House, the still- (and, surely, always-) charismatic Styles lightens his mood and smooths out the obvious influences so prevalent on Fine Line in order to make a breathy, kinda-sorta breathtaking new album that's bold and brassy (the scatting on “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”), retro-but-not-too-precious-about-it (the Brothers Johnson crib of “Daydreaming”), and clingingly contagious (the earworm that is “As It Was”).
Although there are way too many cutesy “Watermelon Sugar”-y food references for my liking—honey, grape juice, fried rice, eggs, ice cream, coffee—Harry and his usual team of producers and co-writers seem so positive that you’ll like it that they’ll continue the pattern (stop him now before he heads into album #4). Lyrically, things are as light and breezy as the music to “Little Freak” and the balladry of “Matilda”—men are bad (“Boyfriends”) until they’re good (“Love of My Life”), and as long as Harry continues to sing these words with one of au courant pop’s sweetest voices, what does it matter? The sugar high of Harry’s House might give you a headache if taken all at once, but enjoy it in pieces, like finger food, and you’ll be both comforted and satisfied.