The highs on Harry’s House hit, but the record as a whole is sadly lacking in the charming crooner’s usual energy.
One of the most compelling and immediately exciting things about Harry Styles is his winsome charisma. The man’s simply a natural performer, easily lighting up any stage he visits, and you never want to look away from his live performances — his connection with a crowd is easy, his presence magnetic. Importantly, for the most part that appeal has carried over into his actual music. Songs like “Sign of the Times” and “Watermelon Sugar” — hitting opposite ends of the tonal spectrum — beg to be listened to, even if they might not be your particular style; they’re grandiose and ridiculous and attention-catching. It’s clear Styles aimed to bring that sort of energy to his third album, Harry’s House, but unfortunately it did not transfer smoothly or evenly into the studio. The peak moments are genuinely thrilling, but much of the album registers as nice but a little dull, a disappointment given the dynamism Styles is so clearly capable of.
Harry’s House does kick off with a fabulous one-two punch of “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” and “Late Night Talking.” “Sushi” is ludicrous in the best sense, replete with a mish-mash of horns, a wordless chorus, and a bevy of seductive food metaphors. Any attempt to describe the song can only make it sound stupid, but it’s well worth the listen for the experience of it: it operates as a thesis statement for the album, and is an absolutely swaggering opener. “Late Night Talking” continues down the ‘70s funk lane, albeit in a more straightforward manner; it’s danceable and incredibly sticky, designed to be spun on repeat. The other littered tracks that follow in these footsteps of upbeat production stand out as well. Lead single “As It Was” is a masterclass in the “sad bop” genre, simultaneously grandiose and rather lonely. It’s certainly a fine line to tread, but Styles is up to the task, charming even when he’s singing about his own self-loathing.
The album as a whole, however, struggles a bit when it comes to the writing. The sonic stylings of Harry’s House are undeniably lush and earwormy, but they unfortunately can’t mask the many awkward or downright bad phrasings. “I bring the pop to the cinema / you pop when we get intimate,” Styles croons on “Cinema,” a distinctly unsexy and juvenile bit of wordplay. On “Boyfriends,” which is meant to be a more heartfelt ballad examining how men take advantage of their partners, Styles offers only basic platitudes: “They think you’re so easy / they take you for granted / they don’t know, they’re just misunderstanding.” Nobody expects a sociologically grounded tract on poorly behaved boyfriends from a three-minute song, but this is so low effort as to barely register. And more functionally irksome, the album melds into a series of “ba ba ba” and “la la la” noises, making it hard to differentiate between different tracks when spinning the record for background music. It’s perhaps in these littered complaints that the most frustrating thing about Harry’s House becomes clear: For an artist whose music is usually so buoyed by his energetic performance, this latest album scans as an awfully subdued and generic affair. Too many listeners will be left feeling like a vexed parent: not mad because it’s so godawful — it isn’t — but disappointed because it isn’t more.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2022 | Part 2.