If you thought “Sign of the Times” was a daring departure for Harry Styles, wait ‘til you hear his new album.
“Harry’s House,” out May 20, is the former One Direction heartthrob’s biggest sonic shift yet, leaving behind the ‘70s rock vibe that launched his magnetic solo career in 2017 and the shrooms that helped piece together his 2019 follow-up, “Fine Line,” for a fantastically funky and staggeringly intimate record fitting for its title.
Styles’ latest effort finds him crooning about change and how it remolds our paths. The effervescent lead single, “As It Was,” seems to reflect on his parents’ divorce as he seeks comfort in his dear mother and sister (“In this world, it’s just us”), while “Matilda,” a pensive and folky ode to growing up, stresses that home comes in many forms (“You can throw a party full of everyone you know / And not invite your family ‘cause they never showed you love”).
From the fanciful falsettos of “Satellite” to the masterfully melodic lyrics of “Daylight” (“Dip you in honey so I could be sticking to you”), “Harry’s House” — much like Styles’ live concerts — is a playground for inclusivity. All are welcome, and each story is worth pulling up a chair.
Styles, 28, commands attention from the jump with a marvelous introduction that’s horny in more ways than one. Punctuated by literal brass horns and a groovy bass line, “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” drips in innuendo as Styles eroticizes fried rice, ice cream and blue bubblegum (the man did write “Watermelon Sugar” after all). He’s even more sexually overt on the suave “Cinema,” purring lines like, “You pop when we get intimate” with John Mayer on electric guitar.
But it wouldn’t be a Harry Styles album without some vulnerable moments, too. The aching closer, “Love of My Life,” is poetic on paper as Style mourns a relationship he didn’t want to leave behind, but his Hitchcockian delivery has the snarl of a menacing ex. The slow burn “Little Freak,” meanwhile, is painted with regret as he delicately admits to a former flame, “I disrespected you.”
It may not come as a surprise that the standouts here are the two songs that Styles handpicked to debut during his headlining Coachella set in April: “Boyfriends,” a bare-bones ditty that highlights his smooth-as-butter voice and lambasts the assholery of men, and “Late Night Talking,” a beguiling, straight-from-the-‘80s dance bop that’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to his “Levitating.”
Led and co-produced by Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, Styles’ band is in top form as well. Collectively, they make the Brothers Johnson-sampling “Daydreaming” feel like lounging on a cotton candy cloud and the trippy “Grapejuice” like it’s 1969 all over again.
Some may argue that “Harry’s House,” as joyous as it is, isn’t as instant or radio-friendly as “Fine Line,” but that’s the beauty of a virtuoso like Styles. He’s a 21st century rock god who doesn’t need to cater to anyone. After all, we’re only guests in his house.