In defence of Harry Styles: leaving the chaos of One Direction for an alluring new sound

I’ll put my hand up in admitting that I was never a One Direction loyalist. I remember seeing the band perform on their first Australian tour as a member of the keen-eyed media but had never thrown myself freely into the manic euphoria that surrounded the X Factor assembled group.

As it stands in 2017, times are getting increasingly more interesting for each member and indeed, their fans. Since their hiatus, each member has graduated and flown the nest, so to speak – perhaps surprisingly to some, the directions (heh) they’ve headed in have been remarkably different. Of course, Zayn Malik‘s departure for the group in favour of sex-selling R&B beats positioned him as a chart-buster of his own accord, while Niall Horan opted for a path well trodden by your Ed Sheerans, your James Bays. Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson have each dabbled in collaborations and those made-for-radio-money hits that have landed them their own solo successes, but possibly not straying too far from their comfort zone.

Which brings us to Harry Styles. Before his turn in Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk is unveiled on screens everywhere this year, the musician has unleashed his debut solo album and man, was the internet ‘shook’. Taking to Spotify not long after Harry Styles hit the streaming platform, I took my first spin with the record. Having only heard the popular “Sign of the Times” single on radio and not being completely sold by it, I was taken by the stylistic influences Styles had been clearly exploring on his own.

Putting the emphasis very much on songwriting and paying homage to the rock and roll that has permeated through popular culture, particularly from the 70’s onward, Styles’ venture out from the One Direction coop is a personal stamp of credibility – he’s out from the shadows of the studio lights and wants to strip it back to showing the music he loves and is influenced by. Unlike Malik’s solo work, say, Styles seems less interested in projecting then-newfound sexual virility on record, rather, pouring his efforts into the showing his musical prowess and writing ability. His music is non-threatening, but it is still catchy to the ear. You might not want to be drawn to Harry Styles because of the boyband persona attached to the name but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you find yourself here.

Songs about mysterious women are obviously a drawcard – “Two Ghosts” and “Ever Since New York” bring allusions to Taylor Swift, while “Kiwi” is another song that has had the rumour mill buzzing. The album doesn’t need to rely on this theme though, given the fact Styles himself has remained largely out of the tabloid spotlight when it’s come to the comings and goings of girls. The focus tries to land squarely on the guitars that come from The Rolling Stones’ playbook, the soaring vocals and ambition that drove much of Bowie’s work. The braggadocio of late-period Arctic Monkeys. All these influences channelled and packaged into an album from a 23 year old finding his own voice, still.

The final result is one that indicates there is much more to find out about Styles’ artistry and even though his face and profile has been one the world has been fed images of almost aggressively now, for years, we still don’t know much about him. He’s confessional and shy on the album but at the next turn, he’s attempting to seduce in vintage rock fashion. It can be slightly confusing to listen to at points, but the listener won’t find themselves lost during the journey.

I include In the Defence Of within the title of this piece because I feel like Harry Styles – like most boyband singers lusting for the solo tip – released a record into an environment already ready to judge based on previous band material. This is worth a genuine listen – if you weren’t a One Direction fan, like myself, you’ll find yourself surprised and interested in finding out more.

Review Score7.8 out of 10.