Review Roundup

29 Jun

Katy Perry – ‘Witness’

‘Witness’ is the most exhausting, try hard, badly misjudged, over reaching pop album I’ve heard in many years. A truely inexplicable misfire on every level, from the superficial to the fundamental. Perry’s new found and all too convenient ‘woke persona’ is unconvincing, and a duplicity reveals itself from the opening title track onwards. The hooks are diluted beneath a cliched and personality xeroxed production and the melodies are her weakest by a distance. Her last album contained two number one singles that shone amongst a sea of dross. The one before that contained six number ones. The four singles released so far from ‘Witness’ have failed to crack to top ten. Diminishing returns that, on this occasion, tell the whole story.

1/10

Forest Swords – ‘Compassion’

The persistent rattling percussion of ‘Compassion’, Forest Sword’s first release in several years, undercuts moments of extended, eerie silence. It’s an album that twists, turns and surprises from start to finish, never occupying a single sound or mood. This is a contemplative, but often confrontational, album that you’d be hard pressed to find a suitable context for. It wouldn’t translate at a typical club – the melodies are too dark and twisted, the rhythms too unpredictable. Yet this is hardly comfortable home listening either – it’s not what you’d call emotive, and the politics are too buried to warrant a serious engagement. So where does it belong? It’s a mysterious space you imagine Forest Swords would be happy occupying. This is uncanny electronica meant to unnerve and enchant. To that end it’s undeniably successful.

7.5/10

The Amazons – ‘The Amazons’

The Amazons performance on Jools Holland a matter of weeks ago was one of the most excruciating live performances I’ve had the misfortune of seeing on the show. Out of tune, out of time and out of breath, the lead singer had all the charisma of a package holiday sales rep. Dressed from head to toe in skinny black denim and chugging out the same mid paced riff rock that hasn’t been updated since 1993, nothing about the group made me think their debut album would be at all engaging. It isn’t. The Amazons lack of originality would be forgivable if the songs were up to par but they’re painfully bland and repetitive with a poor mix emphasising the feeble vocals. Opener ‘Stay With Me’ is the most encouraging moment, perhaps because it arrives straight out the gate with some energy and a perky melody, but it’s downhill from here. The band only have one sludgy, grungy idea, which they stretch well past breaking point. ‘The Amazons’ is utterly tasteless and by the final third, borderline unlistenable as well.

2/10

The Drums ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ – Review

24 Jun

Right from the beginning Jony Pierce has been adjusting to loss. On ‘submarine’ from their debut e.p, he lamented ‘I did not want to let you go but I knew that I had to.’ As time has gone on, this has become a self fulfilling prophecy. The Drums are like a Russian doll – they’re getting smaller with each new reveal. Initially a four piece, they shed their first member after inter-band squabbles whilst promoting their debut album. The trio become a duo after second record ‘Portamento’. Eventually, at some point last year, founding member Jacob Graham informed frontman Jonny Pierce that he wanted to peruse projects away from the group. Which is where we’re at now. Essentially The Drums is a solo project in everything but name.

This is a shame because it symbolises the end of something. Just as Brexit symbolised a dent in a optimistic post-war dream – representing a sense of mistrust and disillusionment that felt irrevocable – The gradual break up of The Drums undoes a modern version of the Pop dream. In 2009 the group represented the pop ideal; four handsome boys, guitars in hand, writing glorious pop songs about falling in love and having your heart broken. Their outfits referenced Americana and preppy disregard, their songs were the exact half way point between The Supremes and The Smiths. They filtered their sentiments through images of French new wave cinema and Postcard record motifs. Images of surfing, Submarines and sad summers blended with twanging bass lines and frantic rhythms. ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ announces that this wonderful embodiment of pop was always something of a sham. Jonny now claims to have written, recorded and produced most of the band’s material from the beginning. They were never really a band at all – not as such. The drama had been present, and hidden, since the start. The truth is out. The dream has corroded in to reality. Optimism has turned sour.

But ironically, rather than turning in to the disillusioned downer it had every right to be, Jonny embraces reality on ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ and has made a philosophically sophisticated, imaginative and honest record that stands shoulder to shoulder with The Drums earlier work. He confronts hard truths and an unloving world that won’t accept him for who he is. He embraces the implicit loss – of band members, of a partner – and indulges his sadness. He also tackles his complicity in these issues. For the first time he speaks as someone who has wronged as much as been wronged. There is a sense of purpose that was lacking from their last album, a sense of something to strive for. The renewed passion and commitment leads to some of the best melodies Pierece has written in years. You can really hear that he believes in what he sings. Whilst there’s nothing on here as catchy as ‘Best Friend’, ‘Lets Go Surfing’ or ‘Book of Stories’, all of these songs have memorable choruses and fizzy hooks.

Another irony is that the new found freedom has pushed Pierce further back in to his musical comfort zone. Jacob Graham’s deeper involvement on ‘Encyclopaedia’ led to some awkward experimentation and uncomfortable posturing. His departure has allowed Pierce to double down on his initial mandate of razor sharp hooks cut as simply, and vulnerably, as possible. But without having to run his ideas by a committee or represent other people, Pierce has been able to tweak the formula’s just so – this time to his own tastes. So we get unexpected delights like the jazzy saxophone break on ‘Are You Fucked’, the drum and bass inspired effects on ‘Your Tenderness’ and the trippy rhythms on ‘Heart Basel’. Brilliantly, despite these new elements, it never sounds like anyone other than The Drums.

On ‘Enyclopedia’ his tone was sometimes resentful and angry. Bitter songs like ‘Face of God’, ‘Magic Mountain’ and ‘Let Me’ were hugely unlikeable diatribes that rubbed up awkwardly against the more whimsical pop songs. Nothing here is allowed to be either that bitter or that unrooted in reality. The sense of anger has been ironed out and the fantasy has been popped like a balloon. Pierce has talked about the amount of soul searching that took place before putting pen to paper, and for once you can really believe it. When he tackles his father’s homophobia on ‘Head of the Horse’, he does so in a way that is both subtle and moving. He observes his own failures apologetically on ‘If All We Share’ and evokes sympathy without seeking it; he doesn’t seek to cast blame or draw conclusions either.

Of course, the album is brimming with typical Drums overstatement – ‘I pulled up the carpet in my room and slept on the concrete cos I knew you’ – which will not be to everyone’s taste. But this time the melodrama is cancelled out by a dose of dark humour and gritty realism. It doesn’t always pay off; the scathing ‘Rich Kids’ feels like a petulant attack, no matter how worthy a target, and the title track is four minutes of self pity that feels badly placed as a finale. But even these songs sound jubilant and exciting – the biting lyrics offset by elastic rhythms, springy guitar lines and, in the case of ‘Abysmal Thoughts’, whistles and cowbells.

In a sense the drums were the record industry’s last gasp at creating a buzz band in the image of the strokes. They received all the obvious handouts – the magazine covers, the chat show appearances, blog hype, the awards (named by both Pitchfork and NME as the best new band of 2009), but in the end this didn’t translate in to sales. Their debut peaked at 14, and everything since has failed to scrape the top 40. Their best known song, ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, is mostly recognised as the soundtrack to numerous adverts. And yet The Drums still have lasting appeal. They will appear in fairly big font on many festival line up posters this summer and ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ will receive significant attention in the music press. To many people who still believe in a lasting idea of pop music and all it represents, The Drums remain something precious to hold on to. Beaten, battered, bruised and three members down, they are still sounding as good as ever. Times have changed but The Drums, and the pop values they represent, aren’t going anywhere.

8.5/10

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Phoenix ‘Ti Amo’ – Review

19 Jun

In this time of massive social disharmony and political upheaval, there has inevitably been an increase in bands commenting on the big issues. Whether it’s through their interaction with the media, superficial lyrics or genuinely deep engagement, the upsurge has been notable. But Phoenix have made a point of looking past the current political situation. They spent a couple of years recording their new album ‘Ti Amo’ in Paris, during what was obviously a tumultuous time. They have described their record as “a safe haven we kind of built subconsciously for our own sanity”, which is either wilfully ignorant or beautifully defiant depending on your point of view. But surely Phoenix’s romanticised, inclusive, idealistic world view is worth indulging in – now more than ever. This is an album that celebrates simple pleasures and honest emotions. An album inspired by “Roman summers, jukeboxes on the beach, antique marble statues, hyper light, hyper clarity and pistachio gelato.” Decadent? Perhaps. But lush escapism is as valid as any other reaction.

Despite these admirable aims, ‘Ti Amo’s successes are mixed. Their last album was released four years ago, and so the meandering opening track and lead single ‘J Boy’ arrived as a bit of a damp squid. The song does eventually squelch its way in to your memory though, and likewise the album is something of an understated slow burner. Like the gelato they so lovingly describe in the title track’s lyrics, these are songs that gradually melt over you. The hotter the weather, the faster they will melt. The reverb drenched guitars, sun kissed synths and elastic rhythms of ‘Fleur de Lys’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’ are infectious, even if the half baked lyrics fail to penetrate. The pace slows to a sweet mush on ‘Fior di Latte’ and ‘Goodbye Soleil’, two songs that betray the massive influence of Italo Disco and French new wave pop. And as nice as these numbers are, they’re so laid back they’re almost sideways. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that ‘Ti Amo’ is more chill than the bombastically mixed and tightly wound ‘Bankrupt’, an album so exhausting it felt like your ears were being crushed, but the better songs are the more urgent, upbeat moments such as ‘Lovelife’ and ‘tuttifruiti’.

The album’s second half is somewhat more disparate and de-spirited. ‘Role Model’ is the most uncharacteristic song on the album, with a ghostly organ clashing with sparkling beats. The song’s refrain unfortunately recalls the irresistible ‘Rome’, serving only to draw attention the new new track’s failings. ‘Via Veneto’ is a short, sparse synth number that goes nowhere. ‘Telefona’ reminds me of a recent Strokes track called ‘Threat of Joy’, which also made use of retro, down-stroked strums, cutesy synths and a one sided, conversational spoken word introduction. It’s telling that Phoenix music once echoed the Strokes very finest material and they often came over as The Strokes more sharply dressed, continental cousins. Here they are rebounding off one of the more forgettable song’s in that band’s discography.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Ti Amo’ is a pleasant and inoffensive record. And I have no doubt whatsoever that it would sound glorious coming through those jukebox speakers, on a beach in the Roman Summer. But this is England, and however much you try and close you mind to it, bombs are going off and buildings are burning down. Ultimately, ‘Ti Amo’ fails to transport me anywhere. In brief moments, as Thomas Mars’ romantic French accent utters lovestruck Italian come ons, I’m nearly there, on that beach – but I’m never fully transported. The hooks just not hooky enough. The choruses just not persuasive enough. I vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Wolfganag Amadeus’. Every hook dug deep instantly and intensely. I went back for a second helping and didn’t stop returning for months. I mention this because after hearing ‘Ti Amo’ for the first time, I didn’t return to it, or want to, for several days. It’s lethargic, chilled out atmosphere and lazy melodies just weren’t speaking to me. They are never going to make an album as good as ‘Wolfgang Amadeus’, Recapturing lightning in a bottle is surely impossible, but as they coast down that Roman Summer highway, you feel like Phoenix could try just a little harder than this.

6.5/10

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Paramore ‘After Laughter’ – Review

15 Jun

Paramore’s latest album, ‘After Laughter’, is on some levels the band’s most exuberant record yet. But its sparkly, shiney exterior is also a red herring; Paramore ask an interesting question – what happens when the laughter stops and could it be masking something? Despite first impressions, the album is challenging and deeply introspective. You can take the girl out of Emo but you can’t take Emo out of the girl. Contained in these pop nuggets are tear stained lyrics about a rising anxiety. The album opens with a typically forthright deceleration. ‘All I want is to wake up fine/tell me that I’m alright – I don’t want to die.’ The song’s Emo sentiments are delivered with a fizz, and the sweet/sour balance ensures the song scans as an upbeat summer anthem and not a morbid indulgence in depression. But make no mistake – this is heartfelt stuff.

From top to tail, ‘After Laughter’ is the most surprising album of 2017. I’ve long regarded Paramore as something of a joke. I dismissed them early on as a second rate, third wave Emo act. I tried again to get on board with the more tasteful ‘Paramore’ record but didn’t find anything worth sticking around for. Not that Paramore had any reason to be bothered by my lack of persistence; they have a large, loyal fan base who have stuck by the band through lineup crises, changes of sound and various controversies.

‘After Laughter’ is the consequence of all of the above. Gone is Jeremy Davis on bass whilst drummer Zac Farro returns to the fold after sitting out on the last album cycle. Upon quitting the band last time, Farro and his brother (guitarist Josh) posted a lengthy online statement that implied Hayley Williams had become a puppet of major label playmakers, who put pop goals in place of serious artistic progress. As if to shrug a ‘yeah so what’ at that point, ‘After Laughter’ is pretty much the pure pop album the Farro brothers had accused Williams of long wanting to make. It incorporates elastic grooves, twangy guitars and coca cola melodies that worm in to your ears. The clear pop punk influences of the past have evaporated almost entirely, leaving nothing but Williams’ twangy, southern accent as a reminder of past petulance.

Lyrically though, little has changed. Williams is a pessimist, to say the least – a justifiable position to hold but one that is exhausting to listen to over and over again. Here are just a handful of excerpts: ‘For all I know the best is over and the worst is yet to come’, ‘I cried till I couldn’t cry – another heart attack’, ‘I can’t think of getting old, it just makes me want to die’, ‘I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me.’ Yes, Williams truly is down in the dumps. Too often the lyrics indicate that she’s content to dwell in misery rather than confront it with any clarity or conviction. This can be frustrating. You end up agreeing with an ironic lyric on ’26’ where she says ‘man you really know how to get someone down’. Emo has always been self indulgent and whiney, that’s kind of the point, but you’re going to need a high tolerance for that stuff if you’re going to play ‘After Laughter’ on repeat.

One exception is the sophisticated ‘Idle Worship’; Williams’ tone is more reflective and her diagnosis more measured as she unpacks the fan/idol dynamic. ‘It’s such a lonely fall down from the pedestal you put me on’ she observes. ‘Grudges’ also feels more thoughtful. With a deft touch, the song tackles Williams’ relationship with Josh Farro and the bridges they built to restore a broken friendship. The song’s central epiphany is that problems are better when tackled in close company, with a healthy dose of humour. ‘We’ll laugh till we cry, like we did when we were kids, cos we can’t keep holding on to grudges.’ The laughter implied in the title doesn’t always have to be a mask – it can also be a remedy. That’s an argument also made by the music, which soars, fizzes and sparkles in a way that doesn’t allow you to dwell on life’s hardships. Who could possibly be sad when you’re having this much fun?

8/10

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Review roundup

10 Jun

Jens Leckman – ‘Life Will See You Now’

As deeply entertaining as it is entertainingly deep, little else released this year matches the pretty poetry of ‘Life Will See You Now.’ After the heartbroken ballads of his last record, Leckman’s latest collection returns to the detailed storytelling of his best work. He ingeniously narrates a young couple’s first fight, allows us to eavesdrop on the thoughts of a man secretly in love with his best friend, and recalls a conversation with a petrified bride at the wedding he was booked to perform at. The musical arrangements are typically luxurious, with generous helpings of horns, strings, accordions and even some samples. Possibly his finest achievement to date.

8/10

Slowdive – ‘Slowdive’

For their first album in nearly two decades, Slowdive have expanded their signature sound to incorporate modern textures and mature themes alongside unashamed shoegazing. It’s as good as anything they made in their heyday. Mesmerising, melodic and self assured from start to finish; it may be a cliche but it really is as though Slowdive have never been away.

8/10

Alexandra Savior – ‘Belladona of Sadness’

This is the debut album by Alexandra Savior, the young protege of James Ford and Alex Turner, and, Columbia record’s latest prospect. Savior is an undeniable talent with a silky voice and charismatic charm but she never quite shrugs off the impression that she is merely a Lana Del Rey wannabe and this merely an album of half baked Alex Turner cast-offs (Turner ‘co-wrote’ the album). The songs are good but after a while become repetitive. Moody melodies, minor chords and horror movie moves are initially intriguing but overused. Eventually even the second rate, but still brilliant, Turner-isms (‘she gets in corners where water cant’, ‘strawberry split personality’, ‘she’s scorching hot enough to hit save’) begin to grate – interesting, strung together couplets that frustratingly don’t add up to anything substantial or even coherent. Perhaps tellingly, the best song, ‘Cupid’, is the one that feels least encumbered by the Alex Turner/Lana Del Rey comparisons. It just flows so easily, with a languid melody and sweet, simple chord progression. It feels so much lighter and more natural than the rest of her material. This is the right direction. Despite my misgivings, If Savior is given the chance to now grow in to her own skin, she could be an artist to keep tabs on.

6.5/10

Kasabian ‘For Crying Out Loud’ – Review

31 May

2016 was an insane year ’round these parts. For a few glorious months, Leicester was transformed from a fairly ordinary Midlands city in to the home of the greatest sporting triumph the world has ever seen, as Leicester City defied odds of 5000-1 to be crowned Premier League champions. This feet was simply unprecedented – it had been 20 years since a team of underdogs had convincingly challenged for the title (Newcastle United) and longer still since a team outside the traditional top tier of English teams had won the title (Blackburn Rovers). It was rendered more peculiar as Leicester had fought relegation in the previous season and had given little indication that they would amount to anything even remotely impressive. Their team was made up of journey men, youngsters, rejects and even a couple of non-league signings.

Kasabian have been devoted Leicester City fans from an early age. They have their own box at the stadium, they danced with Captain Wes Morgan at Jamie Vardy’s Wedding and have even had conversations with the club’s reclusive Thai owners. At the start of every game City walk out to Kasabian’s ‘Underdogs’ and every time they score a goal ‘Fire’ reverberates around the stadium. In a post match interview, city’s manager Cloudio Ranieri once praised the band and said ‘when you go on the pitch and you hear Kasabian, that means they want Warriors’. Kasabian have become to Leicester City what Oasis are to Man City. Like their football club, the band have found dizzying success against the odds. Of the crop of ambitious young guitar bands to emerge at the start of the last decade, only Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon are still shifting albums in higher numbers. Who in 2005 would have put money on Kasabian outlasting and outselling Razorlight, Kooks or Franz Ferdinand?

It’s fitting then that the band soundtracked the jubilant celebrations that took place in Leicester last May. They performed at City’s trophy parade and shortly after hosted their own two night residency at the King Power Stadium. With no album to promote, the gigs essentially became parties devoted to celebrating the club’s success. They dedicated the sole new song to departed friends who couldn’t be there; ‘Put Your Life On It’ was a perfectly uplifting moment in the set list – the lights aloft anthem that the band had been missing. A banner behind the band read ‘For Crying Out Loud’, which summed emotions up perfectly. That motto has become the title of this, the band’s sixth album (For Crying Out Loud is a favourite saying of Kasabian’s roadie, whose ugly mug also adorns the album art). The record takes Leicester city’s joy, wonderment and odd-defying success and translates it in to an album of upbeat, feel good rock n roll songs.

Kasabian’s blend of anthemic melodies, crunching riffs and rave ‘vibes’ has fallen so far out of favour that the album immediately sounds, in the best sense, like a relic from a prehistoric age. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a rock album as blatantly far reaching as this one. It would be easy to be cynical – this style of music may be out of favour now but it was rinsed to death as far back as the ’90s – but the band pull it off with such enthusiasm that you’d have to be miserable indeed not to fall under their spell. The hooks in ‘Comeback Kid’ and ‘King For A Day’ don’t so much worm their way in to your ears as batter you sideways around the head from the off. No element is subtle but each one is very finely wrought – from the saxophone break in the Blondie referencing ‘Are You Looking For Action’ to the vocal chant in ‘God Bless this Acide House’ – nothing here is unprecedented but feels expertly implemented nonetheless.

Kasabian’s music is smarter than they are given credit for. Critics love to label them as Lad-Rock, pin point their audience as blokey and basically diminish their output and patronise their fan base at any given opportunity. It makes me wonder if these people have actually bothered to listen to their albums or if they’ve just heard ‘Fire’ used in a match of the day compilation, put two and two together and got ‘meat and veg indie’ (to quote The Guardian). Their albums have always been more daring and diverse than even the most generous critics seem to grant. ‘For Crying about loud’ continues this trend whilst also being the band’s most guitar heavy effort to date. It dials back on the synth experiments of ‘48.13’ and the psychedelic genre hopping of their early albums but still manages to sound a little kooky (thanks to savvy production) at the same time as sounding totally tuneful. From top to bottom the emphasis is on water tight hooks, clear choruses and sky scraping riffs, all executed with utter expertise.

The lyrics are usually thoughtful and often funny (‘I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick’), if rarely making any serious point or emotional connection. But It would be a futile exercise in ‘well duh’ pointlessness to list the other, mostly obvious, faults of this record or highlight the inevitable filler, because ultimately this music is a means to end – the end being the live arena. So the pertinent question really is will the album’s best songs slot nicely in to the band’s setlist (as ‘Put Your Life On It’ did so wonderfully in the summer) or will they merely provide ample opportunity for toilet breaks? The answer is assuredly the former. it’s in the live environment that you can imagine these songs thriving. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture mass sing-alongs to ’24/7′ or mosh pits sprouting to ‘Ill Ray’. While they will probably never come close to matching the undeniable ssuccess of ‘Club Foot’, ‘LSF’ or ‘Fire’ the fact that they repeatedly come close, six albums in to their career, is better than most bands could manage. Eye rolling cynics be damned, Kasabian fans are in for a treat next time the band roll in to town.

7.5/10

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Harry Styles ‘Harry Styles’ – Review

16 May

Harry Styles is easy to root for. Whether he’s dating his way through Hollywood, buying pizzas for the homeless, modelling for fashion mags or staring in a big budget war movie – everything he does, he does with effortless cool. He’s one of the more loveable heart-throbs of his or any other generation, as countless teenage fans will attest to. But all that is rendered insignificant if the music doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This debut, self titled album will be the true test of whether Styles has a shot at longevity and serious artistic integrity.

In the same way that One Direction diverted from the boy band cliches of matching outfits, lip synching and dance routines, they have also dispensed with break up tropes as well. When going solo, artists have typically trod one of two paths; the one pioneered by Robbie Williams, of the disgruntled bad boy wishing to unleash their inner rock star via unkempt power ballads; or the one created by Justin Timberlake, that of the formally angelic frontman wishing to unleash their inner sex God via slinky r&b. Not 1D though. For a start nobody, except the rather tiresome Zayn (who released a brooding and hook-averse album last year), seems bitter or unhappy with the One Direction brand. Secondly, each member seems intent on following their own path, not some stereotypical idea of what a pop star should do. Niall has hooked up with indier-than-thou singer songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr for a couple of smooth, acoustic jams that are pitched more for the mums than directioners themselves. Louis seems to be going in an EDM direction whilst, in the most unlikely turn of events, Liam Is readying a migos inspired trap album. Whatever the others get up to, there is unlikely to be any crossover with ‘Harry Styles’.

On his debut album, Styles primarily utilises simple, unfussy arrangements to highlight and compliment his soulful vocals. It’s remarkable how thoroughly he has progressed since enthusiastically but unconvincingly belting out ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ on an X Factor audition seven years ago. His range is impressive, whether tackling the falsetto chorus of ‘Sign of the Time’, the Jagger-isms of ‘Kiwi’ or the breathy croon of ‘From the Dining Table’. This voice is undoubtedly the star here but that effortless, timeless cool I described earlier is also important. Harry, who was in an Arctic Monkeys influenced school band when he auditioned for X Factor, grew up in an era of British music when the guitar, black skinny jeans, Chelsea boots and thoughtful, observational lyrics were in vogue. These are traits that he’s admirably stayed true to, even as they have fallen dramatically out of fashion. Because of this, ‘Harry Styles’ has the benefit of being so out of step with the times that it may actually sound new and unfamiliar to a young audience.

Considering that lead single ‘Sign of the Times’ had all the subtlety of Be Here Now era Oasis, it’s surprising how understated the other songs on ‘Harry Styles’ are. The album opens softly, with an acoustic balled called ‘Meet me in he Hallway’, which features only vaguely proggy background noises as accompaniment to Harry and a guitar. The album ends on a similarly sparse note, with ‘From the Dining Table’, a laid back moment of unguarded vulnerability where Harry pines ‘maybe one day you’ll call me, and tell me you’re sorry too…but you never do.’ ‘From the Dining Table’ is one highlight, as is ‘Two Ghosts’, which coyly references Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’ in both its lyrics and gorgeously heartbreaking vocals. The gentle percussion, and Harry’s fondness for warm, memorable melodies, suggests that he has less in common with a young David Bowie (as the pre-release hype hinted) and more in common with vintage Cat Stevens. No bad thing.

But before we get ahead of ourselves (and Cameron Crowe’s frequent references to the likes of Bowie, Queen, Beatles and Rod Stewart, in his recent Rolling Stone cover feature, was definitely that) we do need to remember that Harry Styles is still a young man of 23, and the sessions for ‘Harry Styles’ marked his first sustained stab at songwriting (helped, it should be noted, by seasoned pros like Kid Harpoon and Jeff Bhasker). That inexperience reveals itself in the flimsy choruses at the centre of ‘Only Angel’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Carolina’, not to mention the juvenile lyrics that will cause sensitive eyebrows to raise. It’s a miracle that in these hyper-aware times, nobody at Columbia warned Harry that opening one song by telling the female subject to ‘open your eyes and shut your mouth’ before telling her he couldn’t take her home to his mother ‘in a dress that short’ might not be the best idea. This is only one example of too many lyrical mis-fires to excuse.

It’s also exemplified in the way he liberally borrows from classic songwriting. The best tracks here are the ones where you can sense an influence, without being bashed over the head by it. The Beatles inspired riff and backing vocals on ‘Carolina’ are cute but the Blackbird inspired ‘Sweet Creature’ is a little too knowing for its own good. The Coldplay-esque melody of ‘Ever Since New York’ is moving but that central guitar figure is photoshopped directly from Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’. Then there’s the ‘Beenie and the Jets’ piano chords of ‘Woman’ and, perhaps most blatantly of all, the mimicking of ‘Amy’ by Ryan Adams – here repurposed as ‘From the Dining Table’, in which chords, melody, mood and even the prominent double tracked vocal technique are lifted wholesale (in spite of, or perhaps because of this, it’s my favourite track on the record).

‘Harry Styles’ is a flawed album, but show me a debut that isn’t. All these faults betray an undiluted enthusiasm and wonderment for the possibilities of Rock n Roll, glimpsed by a young man obviously unencumbered by any post-modern cynicism or hunger for a contemporary notion of trendiness (take note Zayn, Justin Beiber and Drake). We’ve all heard that the guitar is dead, well nobody told that to Harry Styles. (Without wishing to fall victim to Rolling Stone level overstatement) He may be an unlikely saviour but I think Styles has just beamed a smart and vibrant pop-rock album into millions of homes around the world. Who knows who’s listening, ready to pick up the baton. So yes, Harry has certainly passed the musical part of the test – and of course, he remains effortlessly cool and easy to root for.

7/10

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