Arts and Entertainment

(Harry’s) Home Is Where The Heart Is

On his most self-assured album to date, Harry Styles kicks up his feet, pours himself a glass of wine, and invites listeners to bask in his newfound bubble of intimacy.

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The most rewarding aspect of a young artist’s career is their progression toward maturity, whether it be the heightened quality of their forthcoming releases, or their deliberate strides to improve their lyrical prowess. The most fulfilling of these motions towards growth, both for listeners and the artists themselves, is the artist’s gradual understanding and acceptance of themselves. Harry Styles’s third album, his most critically acclaimed to date, exemplifies this quality more than ever before.

Styles’s musical evolution is largely rooted in his half-decade career as a cheeky teenage heartthrob and his subsequent desire to shed the residual adolescence from his persona. His self-titled 2017 debut paid homage to the big ballads and guitar riffs of the ‘70s, while the multi-platinum “Fine Line” (2019) dabbled in soft-rock and electropop, solidifying Styles as one of the paramount pop stars of the 21st century. His newest effort, “Harry’s House,” with a projected first-week sales of 450 to 500 thousand units, is a reflection of his amassed popularity thus far, and a key step in his artistic growth.

On “Harry’s House,” Harry Styles ushers listeners into his residence with a finely-arranged platter of post-pandemic vibrancy. Styles, now 28, is no longer a rogue playboy on the loose nor an angst-riddled beau lost in the endless abyss of superstardom. If anything, he seems perfectly content with the mundane prospects of domesticity; rather than striving for lavish living, he settles for a subtle simplicity, never revealing too much about his personal endeavors, yet extending an invitation to celebrate with him the wonders of a luxuriant life filled with cocaine, side boob, and sea views. Such comfortable familiarity that is maintained throughout the tracks serves as a true testament to rare post-peak clarity, where the artist not only reflects but also embodies all aspects of their work. After all, is there anything more intimate than a room shared between lovers?

Styles, true to his name, knows how to start an album with style. Posed as a sonnet to wasabi, green tea, and blue bubblegum, “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” enters with a purpose, packed with all of the world’s flavors as it brings together a gala of horns, electro-funk beats, and a groovy baseline through thinly veiled innuendos. Such sexual gestures are explicitly echoed in the slippery-smooth “Cinema,” with Styles declaring how he “bring[s] the pop to the cinema,” over John Mayer’s swaggering electric guitar.

With the introduction of the second track, the progression takes on a new sense of rush: “Late Night Talking” seems to thrum as Styles glides down blazing synth chords embodying the neon panache of the ‘80s, while “Daydreaming” samples Brothers Johnson’s soul single “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” (1978) to encapsulate the euphoria of infatuation. Ironically, the light-footed “As It Was,” the album’s lead single, seems to bear the heaviest toll on its shoulders, as Styles scurries through ringing chimes and warped synth hooks to reflect on his parents’ divorce and directly confront the emotional baggage that followed.

Venturing deeper into the nooks and crannies of “Harry’s House” reveals rooms that are more unfurnished, stripped-down, and barren; to fit this change in ambiance, listeners are offered an assortment of tender serenades. Despite their balladry, these tracks don’t drip with the same pulsating loneliness that seemed to permeate previous records in constant anguish; now, Styles makes peace with his empty, bare-bone corners with the acceptance of their existence. On the languid “Little Freak,” Styles reiterates that he’s “Not worried about where you are / Or who you will go home to”; he’s simply “Just thinking about you.” The ode “Matilda,” reflecting on the profound and overwhelming nature of adulthood, reaches out a hand and reassures the titular hero that “You don't have to be sorry for leavin’ and growin’ up.” Such sensitive depth would not have been possible without the grand apotheosis of self-discovery.

Above all, “Harry’s House” seems to ooze with the pure, unbridled satisfaction of being loved. Styles takes us on a tour of his open-roofed sunroom in “Daylight,” declaring, “If I was a bluebird, I would fly to you,” as bursts of electric guitar pierce through a warm, Tame Impala-esque psychedelic haze. The bittersweet and delicate “Grapejuice” wafts through a lush backyard as Styles croons about the fine delicacies of affection in analogy to those of a fine bottle of red wine. And over the kitchen table, “Keep Driving” is sandwiched between whispered late-night confessions as Styles seems to promise that “[he] will always love you” over a bountiful breakfast of maple syrup, hash browns, poached eggs, and pancakes for two.

Led and co-produced by Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, Styles’s vocals are noticeably more repressed and frictionless, often burrowing into the polished, sleek instrumentation. Such stylistic choices are particularly fitting for an album seemingly produced in a bubble of near-constant familiarity. Why leave your house when it’s so comfortable, so easy to sink into your silken pillows? However, because of such simple production, Styles’s third album also tends to feel slightly samey, though this could also be partly due to the excess from its predecessors, with present-day tracks seemingly cemented in apathy after the heaviness of his previous releases.

Nevertheless, while addictive and satisfying, many of the tracks on “Harry’s House” are not particularly filling: they go down as ambiguous appetizers, easily digestible and easy to forget. Songs like “Love of My Life” and “Boyfriends” aren’t unlistenable, but their lack of distinct traits leads them to get lost in the gulf of Styles’s other signature songs, those that hold and define an album on their own. Similar criticism can be directed toward the lyrical content that makes up the bulk of the tracks; between knotted analogies and a myriad of euphemisms for sex, many seem to be void of significant sustenance. Such elements certainly are not a necessity, but in the end, all criticism seems to batter down into the simple concept of wasted potential. Was “Harry’s House” a bad album? Absolutely not, by any means, yet one might wonder what it could have been if some of Styles’s abundant flair was exchanged for substance.

Harry Styles has spent nearly 12 years in the industry, nearly half his life spent basking under fluorescent stage lights and incessant, flashing scrutiny of paparazzi flics; in other words, it was predestined that he would end up losing himself somewhere in circulation, displaced in the gaping void of stardom with nowhere to call his own. Who could have guessed that he, out of all people, would be the one to remind us that a home is “much more of an internal thing?”