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Album Review

Do fame and fortune lead to happiness? Perhaps sometimes. But if the songs on former One Direction singer Harry Styles' eponymous debut are even remotely autobiographical, happiness has proven elusive for him. At least, romantically speaking.

The 23-year-old Brit is almost as famous for his famous exes—Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner among them—as he is for his former band's chart-topping tracks and albums. But whether Styles is crooning about those romantic misfires or more anonymous ones, what's indisputable is that Harry Styles focuses almost completely on failed love affairs.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

On album opener "Meet Me in the Hallway," Styles longs for a floundering relationship to be in a better place ("Hoping you'll come around/ … Maybe we'll work it out") even as he recognizes he needs to get to a healthier place, too ("I gotta get better, gotta get better"). A bad breakup on "Ever Since New York" prompts prayer: "And I've been praying, I never did before/ … I've been praying ever since New York."

"Sweet Creature" is one of the album's few emotional bright spots as Styles thanks a loving partner for how she pulls him out of hard places: "Sweet creature, sweet creature/When I run out of rope, you bring me home."

Ethereal lead single "Sign of the Times" might be about another struggling relationship. "We don't talk enough," Styles tells someone close to him. "We should open up." But it also has an apocalyptic feel to it that perhaps implies a heavenly reunion after the end of the world ("Just stop your crying/Have the time of your life/Breaking through the atmosphere/And things are pretty good from here/ … We can meet again somewhere/Somewhere far away from here").

Objectionable Content

Several songs include allusions to sexual activity. Sometimes it's fairly subtle. On "Meet Me in the Hallway," Styles simply sings, "I just left your bedroom/Give me some morphine." "Woman" finds him jealously obsessing about another man touching his ex: "I hope that you can see the shape that I'm in/While he's touching your skin/He's right where I should be."

Elsewhere, Styles' references to sex are about as plain as they could be: "It turns out she's a devil between the sheets" ("Only Angel"). And album closer "From the Dining Table" finds him singing about masturbation and awakening in bed with a woman who resembles another he still pines for ("Woke up the girl who looked just like you/I almost said your name"). "Two Ghosts" describes two split-up lovers who are now emotionally hollowed-out shells of their former selves ("We're just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me/Trying to remember how it feels to have a heartbeat").

On "Kiwi," a hard-living ex-lover ("She worked her way through a cheap pack of cigarettes/Hard liquor mixed with a bit of intellect") tells the song's narrator that she's pregnant with his child, but she's unwilling to give him in any say regarding what happens next ("Oh, I think she said, 'I'm having your baby, it's none of your business'"). "Carolina," meanwhile, tells the story of another young woman who "gets into parties without invitations" and apparently knows her way around alcohol pretty well ("There's not a drink that I think could sink her"). When Styles repeatedly says, "She's a good girl/She's such a good girl," it's pretty clear that his description is tinged with ironic sarcasm.

Summary Advisory

Harry Styles' debut is as melancholy and muted as his former band's love songs were, at times, earnest and enthusiastic. Freed from the formulaic constraints of the boy band template, Styles has chosen to tell tales of haunting failed romances instead of happily, sappily flourishing ones. Indeed, Styles has swapped out One Direction's sweetness and saccharine for nicotine and morphine in his attempt to dull the ache of emo emptiness, a dispirited vibe that pervades most of the tracks here. "Just take the pain away," he pleads on "Meet Me in the Hallway."

As One Direction's career progressed, the band increasingly indulged naughty double entendres and sensual suggestiveness. There's sexual content here, too. But Styles seems more matter-of-fact about it. In that sense, Harry Styles seems more "adult," perhaps reinforcing the assumption that romance always involves sex, too—a message that's differently harmful than the hedonistic, consequence-free ones One Direction frequently peddled.

That said, Harry Styles' main problem arguably isn't just its sensual allusions. It's also the glum, hopeless feeling that pervades the album as whole. For a guy who would seem to have the world by tail, Mr. Styles doesn't seem very happy with his life at all.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

PopRock

Author

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

On track for a No. 1 debut.

Record Label

Erskine Records Limited, Columbia, Sony

Platform

Publisher

Released

May 12, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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