Harry Styles is a musician for all seasons, and his third album, Harry’s House, is proof of the chameleonic way in which the former boybander so effortlessly traverses genres, feelings and states of mind we all know too well. His relatability as a person who so happens to be a talented musician has been present and palpable since his introduction as a solo artist with his 2017 self-titled debut, but with this latest release, Styles opens himself up further than ever before, drawing a direct line to his heart. With each and every Harry’s House lyric, the English rock star—yes, he’s on that level now, let’s not lie to ourselves—delves deeper into both the loudest and quietest parts of his brain, where he keeps his secrets, his unmentionables and the threads of all the things he seemingly has always wanted to say. Styles continues to push his own personal boundaries with each record in a way that feels nothing but genuinely soul-baring. Harry’s House is a dance-pop record that bleeds folk edges, co-opting the recognizable guitar-based sound he’s built into something new he’s exploring—much like the story the album’s lyrics tell us.
Styles has an intoxicating command of story, and the specificity of his songwriting gives way to a sharp narrative throughout the album, an artistic method he first used in his second release Fine Line, and continues to lean on. In interviews, he has mentioned on several occasions that he prefers that the songs speak for themselves, that he’ll never talk about something personal in an interview that would be better served as a dreamy allusion in a song. After all, that’s a kind of therapy for an artist, being able to explore the hurt and the joy of your experiences through your work. Through the images Styles gives us, Harry’s House seems to tell the story of a person who, when met with the prospect of an exciting new connection, finds themselves trying to soak up the thrilling feelings that come from the start of something while wrestling to free themselves from the past.
The opening track, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” is high-energy and full of verve, a bubbly and vivacious memory of what appears to have been a flirtatious, successful date. It’s the horn-accented harbinger of the beginning of something that could be monumental, both in this new relationship and, quite literally, as the album’s opener. From there, tracks like “Late Night Talking” and “As It Was” take us into the mind of someone yearning, both for the allure of new prospects in front of them and for the nostalgia of parts of their past. They each have an easy-listening dance vibe about them, but while “Late Night Talking” embodies something close to a soft disco beat you can’t help but groove to, “As It Was”—the album’s first single—has an optimistic, breezy sound that juxtaposes the themes Styles presents in its lyrics. However, the real meat of the album’s narrative is spread throughout its middle stretch.
In the melodic fifth track, “Daylight,” Styles remembers someone who was “doing cocaine” in his kitchen, but is now heading somewhere on a plane to other responsibilities, someone he’s missing having fun with at all hours of the night, someone who’s got him “cursing the daylight.” The dreamy and stripped-down, yet vocally resonant “Little Freak” brings us into Styles’ headspace while he remembers the times he had with that person before they had to part for a while. “I’m not worried about where you are, or who you will go home to, I’m just thinking about you,” he sings in the chorus, fully overtaken by thoughts of the one whom he also claims to have “disrespected” because he “jumped in feet first and [...] landed too hard.” The infectious beat of the eighth track, “Cinema,” gives way to a sex-tinged series of questions when Styles asks in the chorus, “I just think you’re cool, I dig your cinema / Do you think I’m cool too? / Or am I too into you?” In track 10, “Keep Driving,” Styles gives a distinctly personal list of moments and apparent memories with the person he’s been singing about the entire record: “Passports in foot wells / Kiss her and don’t tells / Wine glass / Puff, pass / Tea with cyborgs / Riot America / Science and edibles / Life hacks going viral in the bathroom / Cocaine / Side boob / Choke her with a sea view / Toothache / Bad move / Just act normal / Moka pot Monday / It’s all good / Hey you / Should we just keep driving?”
His lyrics run the gamut from mysteriously allusive to emotionally raw, and in some of his best writing moments, they’re sexually bare in a way that’s only really been alluded to in his past work, which makes for some beautifully brash declarations of desire. These range from mild—“You pop when we get intimate” from “Cinema”—to openly raunchy—“Choke her with a sea view” from that eclectic list of a bridge in “Keep Driving”—but they’re not gratuitous and they serve their purpose, which is so clearly the purpose of every word he has written here: to illustrate the moment in a way that gives you the same feelings.
It’s also important to highlight the daring departures in production on this album, because the Harry’s House sound is, on the whole, different from what Styles has built his solo career on—you know, the raucous rock sound of “Kiwi,” the rager from his debut, or Fine Line’s sun-kissed California radio jams like “Golden” and “Watermelon Sugar.” A few of the tracks on Harry’s House have a rich, yet intimate art-folk sound that is kindred with the likes of Bon Iver—particularly “Little Freak” and “Matilda”—calling back to the title track of his second record, which drew comparisons to the musician’s 2011 track “Perth.” Those moments are in line with Styles’ past work, but the majority of the album has this hooky dance-pop sound that certainly pulls influence from similar stylings of the ’80s, and subsequently fits adjacent to the likes of A-ha or Pet Shop Boys. It’s a welcome new avenue for Styles to dance down, and he does the steps with seasoned ease. Like I said, he’s a musician for all seasons, and he’s starting to prove there isn’t much he can’t do.
Similarly to the experimentations in production—thanks to Styles’ regular collaborators Kid Harpoon, Tyler Johnson and Sammy Witte—it’s refreshing to also hear the singer trying new things vocally. Where he lightly tested out falsetto and soft-toned vocals on Fine Line, he’s come to rely on those stylings in Harry’s House, and they suit him, and this particular sound, quite well. It’s a tactic he uses far and wide on the album—the exploration of quieter, yet more confident stylings are on prominent display in “Satellite,” “Keep Driving,” “Little Freak” and “Daylight,” about a third of the album—and there are actually only a handful of songs where he doesn’t employ those dulcet tones. Styles also sparingly gave us some emotional, keening scream vocals on Fine Line in places where they would pack a punch; on this new record, he finds more and more opportunities to employ those, leaving us feeling his frustration, desire and introspection in the most primal way. It mostly shows up in the background of certain tracks—”Daydreaming,” in particular, has some fierce moments where Styles’ backing vocals transcend singing and become something more desperate and daring, something akin to a pop-funk-tinged mating call—but the power of his vocals is hard to miss. To put it plainly, he sounds in command of his voice on this record in a way that he hadn’t yet reached in his past two releases.
While truly every track on Harry’s House has something to admire and embrace, the ninth song, “Daydreaming,” is a standout for one simple reason: Styles uses a sample for the very first time. The musician—who, at this point, is known for keeping away from features or collaborations on his albums—repurposes a portion of The Brothers Johnson’s groovy 1978 song “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now,” and the result is very ‘70s and full of fun vibes, despite the lyrics alluding to a long time away from a lover whom you hope will give you “something to dream about.” The track is, along with “Sushi,” perhaps one of the most exciting—or at least dance-y—songs on the album, and it shows that the musician is also pretty good at finding the influential merit in the footsteps of what came before, among all his other talents. Sampling another song can, and does, go horribly wrong for some artists, but Styles’ vocals and narrative glide over the original track with ease and still leave room for him to reinvent The Brothers Johnson’s sound.
There’s a reflective element to the worlds Styles creates within his albums, something pure and genuine about how he looks critically at himself and acknowledges his shortcomings and faults. On this album, more than ever, it feels like he is asking himself, “How do I bring a better version of myself into the present?” At the same time, he’s also unafraid to be unabashed in his optimism, in spite of his past. This translates quite beautifully to his music, particularly through Styles’ thoughtful lyrics, standout vocals and effortless melodies. He keeps building an emotional repertoire of meaningful music, and Harry’s House is no different. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Styles mentioned that this album is the one that feels most like himself—and it’s clear that he’s fully willing to let us into his sanctuary this time around, that he has completely let his guard down and is opening the front door for us with open arms.
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5 p.m. ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.