The topic of artists shifting genres throughout their musical careers is a polarizing argument. The artist is accused of “abandoning their roots” or becoming molded by the mass media, without their personal autonomy considered. Regardless of the verdict, this recurrent issue questions the validity of our categorization of artists within genres.
Should we evaluate each album as independent, taking a sort of new critical literary approach, where we evaluate the art independent of its circumstances? Or does removing the artist depersonalize the art? Harry’s House forces the listener to evaluate these approaches to music criticism, opening with “Music For a Sushi Restaurant.”
Only preceded by one leading single, Harry’s House remained an enigma. The minimalistic living area depicted on the album cover exhibits the extent of Harry’s ‘70’s aesthetic into his next era of music. Natural daylight pours into a room of white walls, where Harry stands contemplating the ceiling light fixture at his feet. A warm brown loveseat centers the scene, supplying stability amidst the disillusionment of the upside-down room. A lamp and light fixture add to the brightness, communicating the energy of the forthcoming album. Harry’s flowy jeans and collared baby doll top express a calm and lax style, contrasting the outfitting of Fine Line.
“As It Was” is an upbeat pop track, introducing the album with high energy. Harry’s mellow voice is carried by steady drums that give the track its energy. The tempo of the drums allows the “groovy” production elements a place in the song. This debut single reminds me of the release of “Watermelon Sugar” preceding Fine Line in 2019. We cannot rely on a single to communicate the theme of an album with the industry motivated primary release of a pop song.
“As It Was” establishes the setting of the album, referencing Harry “sitting at home on the floor.” The warm glow of the album and the inviting, positive nature of the first single invite us into Harry’s House, tinged by cathartic lyrics over intoxicating melodies. Harry introduces the album with an energy contrary to the depiction on the album cover, creating a duality of thematic representations. This track preludes Harry’s House with an incessant, vivacious energy, establishing the perceptions of the anticipated album.
As we ring the doorbell and notice the title of the first track, our expectations are even more conflicted.
When the bass begins in “Music For a Sushi Restaurant,” I was immediately reminded of “Carolina” from Harry’s first album. The funky bass lines juxtapose Harry’s voice, allowing both elements to stand distinct from each other. The trumpet solos continue the energy initiated by “As It Was,” keeping the listener on the dancefloor underneath the mirrorball. Harry brings us in with a swelling scream and track one kickstarts the energy of the album, remaining steady throughout. “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” similarly closes with a scream and leaves us with a lull of feedback, forcing us to consider Harry’s sonic evolution before continuing to the next track.
“Late Night Talking” begins with synths mimicking an 80’s pop sound, carrying us into the more lyrically copious track.
Harry counts us into “Grapejuice,” bringing the energy down with his distant vocals reminiscent of phonograph audio. A household item in Harry’s House, piano synths carry the melody brought to fruition in the chorus with Harry’s clarity of vocals. Harry invites us inside his house to share his relationship with alcohol, specifically a dependence on red wine.
Depicting a euphoric relationship with a significant other and a bottle of wine, Harry solemnly sings “there’s just no getting through the grapejuice blues.” “Grapejuice” shows us a confessional and vulnerable Harry while the groovy synths and repetitive, melodic chorus distract us from the melancholic reality of the lyrics. The summer release of the album will hopefully allow this track its summer soundtrack potential among fans of vocoders and synthesizers.
The familiar single “As It Was” bridges the gap between “Grapejuice” and “Daylight.”
“Daylight” relates the feeling of intense attraction to the effect of drugs. A dreadful sense of the day ahead sets in upon the comedown of stimulants, like cocaine mentioned in the first verse of the song, leading Harry to sing “you got me cursing the daylight” throughout the chorus.
If Harry is inconsistent across genres throughout his three albums, he has favorite thematic messages and words that reappear throughout his discography. In “Daylight,” Harry sings “you’ve got the antidote,” referencing the healing nature of his love interest and the dependence on substances; in “Golden,” from Fine Line, Harry’s second album, released in 2019, Harry sings “lovin’ is the antidote,” similarly referencing the association of love and healing. Harry has an affinity for communicating intense emotion through intentional lyricism.
“Daylight”’s easygoing melody similarly distracts from the story interwoven in the lyrics, a technique consistent throughout Styles’ confessional lyricism. The synths of “Daylight” come to an abrupt stop before we are led into “Little Freak” with a steady percussion beat and airy, layered vocals. Harry’s apologetic melancholy expresses itself through self-recognition and direct communication. A dreamy guitar picking fades us out of “Little Freak” and into my favorite track, “Matilda.”
Opening with a folky picking pattern, “Matilda” tells the story of a young child mistreated by their family throughout their life. “Matilda” parallels Roald Dahl’s Matilda, if you are familiar with the children’s novel or Danny Devito’s film adaptation. Harry sings to Matilda, recognizing her personal struggles despite her tendency to minimize them. Harry’s sincere sentiments lay a blanket over the listener, concluding the track on an optimistic, uplifting note, and the recognition that “you don’t have to be sorry.”
Ranging from folkloric songwriting to minimal lyricism, Harry’s House demonstrates a sonic evolution and diversification of the musician. Harry’s creative autonomy becomes apparent as he expresses himself musically through varying sonic structures. The focus is shifted in “Cinema,” lacking in lyricism, but making up for in production. With synths atop a bass solo and the vocal synthesis of the repetitive chorus, “you’ve got the cinema,” this track provides easy listening for a sunset drive. “Cinema” sounds like a lo-fi beats track interwoven with funky bass lines.
“Daydreaming”’s repetitive lyrics and energetic instrumentation invoke the feelings associated with daydreaming; the constant and cyclical nature of “livin’ in a daydream” and the heightened activity level during the daytime.
The shortest length track on the record yet the most lyrically substantial, “Keep Driving” communicates the mentality of a night drive. The stream-of-consciousness lyricism consisting of lists of associative phrase depicts the relationship in a rushed, hazy manner similar to looking out of a rearview mirror while driving. Harry portrays driving to ignore the current moment when he continues to drive despite “a small concern with how the engine sounds.” Harry accomplished encapsulating the vibes of a night drive, while creating the perfect anthem to roll the windows down.
Depending how long you keep repeat on for track 10, we “Keep Driving” into “Satellite.” While this track has an infectious energy throughout the chorus, the refrain prior to causes the song to lose its momentum. The bridge incorporates heavy drums reminiscent of Harry’s debut album’s sound. The instrumentation of the bridge creates a tension between the melody and the lyricism, and the added trumpets construct a chaotic environment.
The chaos continues, while “Boyfriends” begins with a verse in reverse, clarified with the final refrain of the song. Harry then sings us to sleep, picking a soothing melody on acoustic guitar. I prefer “Sweet Creature” when wanting to hear Harry on acoustic. “Boyfriends” continues the denouement initiated by “Satellite,” closing with the primarily reversed lyrics, “you feel a fool, you’re back at it again.”
Lastly, and maybe least(ly?), Harry’s House concludes with “Love Of My Life.” Backed by a synth beat, “Love Of My Life” is constructed with clear and direct verses, but the structure of the chorus seems rushed and incomplete. The track closes the door to Harry’s House with a piano closure like a lullaby.
While my favorite album remains his self-titled debut, I think Harry’s House stands firmly on its own as an evolutionary project. Harry’s musical ingenuity can be traced throughout his albums, and his latest release sounds like if “Sunflower, vol. 6” from Fine Line was a complete work in itself. Harry’s House is not an album I will add to my daily rotation, but Harry’s ability to construct a cohesive musical entity gives the album the power to stand alone. When I’m feeling groovy I can sit beside my lava lamp and stream Harry’s House, perhaps with a glass of red wine.
Written by: ktsw admin