Harry Styles

Harry Styles performing

When clicking the play button, listeners expect the same old, pop-sounding music to start coming out of the speakers or through the headphones. But, to much surprise, a different sound comes out — an edgier one with a cryptic, gravelly voice to the tune of an acoustic guitar.

As the album plays on, the listener can’t tell whether they’re listening to the Beatles or someone kin to Paul McCartney. Turns out, it isn’t Paul, Ringo, George or John — it’s Harry Styles, back with a new sound that showcases his own personal style (pun intended).

On May 12, Styles released his debut self-titled solo album, complete with 10 songs and a new sound. Styles, who gained fame through his previous group, One Direction, has left behind his pop beginnings and switched over to rock 'n' roll, a genre that traces back to his roots. A unique blend of sounds, the album encompasses the music Styles said he grew up with according to an article by the New York Times — “Pink Floyd, Beatles, Stones, Fleetwood.”

Styles, who isn’t a stranger to Mick Jagger comparisons, embodies his idol on his first solo album. “Only Angel” contains guitar riffs fit for a Rolling Stones album, with raunchy lines like, “Told it to her brother and she told it to me / That she's gonna be angel, just you wait and see / When it turns out she's a devil in between the sheets / And there's nothing she can do about it.”

A standout track on the album is “Sign of the Times,” which, according to an article by Billboard, embodies years of “British rock history.” The first single from the album has traces of “late-period Beatles and Bowie” strewn throughout. Andrew Unterberger writes, “It doesn't sound like a tribute to (or rip off of) any of these artists -- it just sounds like someone who's grown up studying at the feet of all these titans and now wants to try his hand at joining their ranks.” Amy Roberts from Bustle has also noticed the track’s Bowie sound, and says that the influence says heaps about Styles’ “ambition as an artist.”

Favorite tracks of mine include “Meet Me in the Hallway,” “Carolina” and “Woman.” “Meet Me in the Hallway” is filled with echoey vocals that are full of emotion. As the first track on the album, the song does a great job setting the tone and offers a subtle sneak peek at what the rest of the album sounds like, warming the listener up with something more relaxing before the album progresses into full-blown rock.

“Carolina” is a track that makes the listener want to get up and dance. It was written about a no-longer “mystery girl” Townes Adair Jones, a 20-year-old UCLA student whom Styles met on a blind date. On the track, Styles croons, “I met her once and wrote a song about her / I wanna scream, yeah / I wanna shout it out / And I hope she hears me now.”  

“Woman,” reminiscent of an old school rock piano ballad, is a song that’s more bitter and jealous than the rest on the album, with lines such as, “I'm selfish, I know / But I don't ever want to see you with him,” and “I hope you can see, the shape that I'm in / While he's touching your skin / He's right where I should, where I should be / But you're making me bleed.”

To me, the album sounds like a hybrid of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones with a dash of Prince and Bowie. While the sound is a far cry from what fans are used to hearing from Styles, it’s a breath of fresh air. By going solo, Styles has been able to make music that speaks to his own taste. Fans admired the curly-haired, blue-eyed Styles in One Direction, but they’ll love him even more in his new role as an ambitious solo rock artist. The album has allowed Styles to not only grow as an artist, but grow with his fans, offering a more mature sound and introducing them to a side of him they didn’t get to see previously.

Abby Church is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact Abby at churchae@dukes.jmu.edu.

Abby Church is the Editor-in-Chief of The Breeze. She’s a junior media arts and design major with a concentration in journalism and a minor in creative writing. Fun fact: she's an award winning reporter and rapper.