Anthemic, spry, ambitious; the 1D star earns his rock god spurs
Boy band emancipation looks good on Harry Styles. Since One Direction announced an indefinite hiatus in 2016, the onetime scourge of the planet’s female vocal cords has forged ahead, with a liberated sound that hungrily takes its cues from squalling, leather-jacketed blues (“Kiwi,” on his self-titled 2017 debut), sun-kissed 1970s soft rock (“Golden”), and other crate-digging musical byways well beyond the supposed ken of a former X Factor finalist. Most impressively: he makes these gigantic creative leaps look like logical next steps. Not just because he has surrounded himself with a Los Angeles-based rabble of seasoned musicians and likeminded souls (most notably Jeff Bhasker, who helped him sculpt the floating, piano-led majesty of first single “Sign of the Times”). But also because—as evinced by the glittering R&B refrain on “Adore You,” or the raw, cracking yearn of “Falling”—Styles may be a reborn sonic adventurer, but he still has a pop star’s beating heart.