Album Review: I’ve walked through 13 rooms of Harry’s House, and I adore them

With an easy charisma and suave disposition, Harry Styles has given us an introspective record that takes a modern day visit into 80s techno-infused pop-funk. The album sweeps through vignettes of his life and gravitates around the pull of desire, growing up and what he considers to be ‘home’.

Harry Styles returns with an emblazoned, synth-layered discotheque in his latest album, Harry’s House, offering a pastiche of rock and a sheen of 80s funk for fans to sink their teeth into. This record is checkered with intimations of cheeky soft-edged pop and possesses synths and rhythms made for dancing the night away. The warmth of the album is also heard in conversational quips and lyrics that muse on the personal, imbued with a heartfelt earnestness that sends me back to lying side-by-side in bed next to a friend and listening to them recount their romantic affairs. 

The album opens with ‘Music For a Sushi Restaurant’, an uptempo dance track with a punchy bassline, groovy hook and spirited trumpet interjections. High on life, Styles takes us on a whirlwind spectacle declaring his adoration for his lover, singing, “You know I love you, babe”, a token assertion paralleling the infamous Tom Cruise/Oprah Winfrey couch-jump moment from 17 years ago. His modern day homage to funk is captured best in this track.

“Late Night Talking” follows suit, and uses a simpler melody with injections of synth-chordal patterns, giving a bedroom pop sensibility.. The hook sounds like Robyn’s “Keep This Fire Burning”, with nods to her signature catchy electro beats. He sings with impassioned pleading, “It’s only been a couple of days and I miss you”. This song is an anthem for the infatuated and is a strikingly captivating piece; the chorus enlivening the instrumentals with its pulsing synths and driving drum beats.  

‘As It Was’ almost needs no introduction. Styles’ first single in anticipation of this album, the song was a daring change from his previous tracks, deeply embedded in the kind of 80s synth pop that remind us of A-ha. The flourishes in the instrumentation are a nice touch, especially the tubular bells that can be heard as the song reaches a crescendo. The guise of carefree uptempo tracks mixed with heavier lyrics is a common thread in Styles’ songwriting. He seems to enjoy teasing out moments of discomfort through party jams. 

In an interview with The Rolling Stone during his Fine Line era, Styles described the album as being, “all about having sex and feeling sad.” The musically ambitious Harry’s House, whose crossover of genres moves through nostalgic pop and contemporary acoustic soundscapes, presents an era which is arguably about falling in love, (having sex) and being okay irrespective of the outcome.

’Keep Driving’ is more stripped back and offers a highlight reel of road trip ventures bleeding into escapism. He sings with idyllic idolatry, almost as if he’s in a hyperfixed trance, drifting in a haze, waiting for the comedown. Lines like “Passports in footwells/ Kiss her and don’t tells / Wine glass, puff pass” are sung in a soft and alluring manner. His conversational lyrics make for a personal dialogue, a heartfelt soft pop pleasure mix tinged with vulnerability. 

‘Little Freak’ is an exercise in restraint by Styles, opening with a slow pulsing beat. This song is self-reflexive, and spins a delicate perspective on lost loves: “I was thinking about how you never saw my birthmark.” With an awareness of his own hubris, he sings, “I disrespected you / Jumped in feet first / and I landed too hard / A broken ankle, karma rules.”

In line with his discography, I am compelled to slot ‘Little Freak’, as a response to Fine Line’s ‘Cherry’, which broods over the loss of a partner and spills over with jealousy. A voice memo of his ex-partner, Camille Rowe, features and bookends the track – a clear reference to their relationship. ‘Little Freak’ is elevated and sung in a mature breath, without remorse. It is simply an honest portrayal of someone remembering an old flame. “I’m not worried about where you are / Or who you go home to / Just thinking about you.” 

‘Matilda’” is wrapped up in a folk sensibility and is a loose ode to the titular character in Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. Styles attributes the song to a grown-up Matilda, and sings tenderly, assuring the listener that it is okay. The falsetto near the end,, where Harry sings “as long as you can let them go,” is heaven-sent. This is a song for outsiders, people with troubled family history or those who feel adrift in life. “You can throw a party full of everyone you know / And not invite your family cause they never showed you love / You don’t have to be sorry for leavin’ and growing up.” 

The penultimate track of Harry’s House is ‘Boyfriends’, one of two songs from the album which debuted during his Coachella set last month, where he declared, “To boyfriends everywhere, fuck you!” He reprimands men for their role in damned romances – something that he too is guilty of. A melancholic tune holds the cyclical nature of failed relationships that the song proffers. We can glean that it is easy to return to people who aren’t necessarily good for you.

Guitar aficionado John Mayer plays electric guitar on ‘Cinema’ and ‘Daydreaming’, delivering a ravishing solo on the former. Styles’ howl in ‘Daydreaming’ is something that I can vividly picture him performing in a stadium, dancing on  stage while smirking towards the crowd. An analogue synethesiser is used in ‘Daylight’, giving it a vibrant, vintage feel. 

Harry’s House is defined by a disarming nonchalance, through which he muses on candid thoughts about love and pleasure and shrugs off heavy emotional stakes. A confident swagger and impish grin can be visualised in his retro-rock pastiche, polished with a smooth voice that deepens as the album wears on. An album on domesticity, the songs reveal intimate images – wine-drunk on rouge (‘Grapejuice’), doing cocaine in the kitchen (‘Daylight’), maple-syrup and pancakes in the morning (‘Keep Driving’) – brandished alongside sexual ones – “dangling” wet dreams (‘Little Freak’) and “knowing your creases and your ends” (‘Love of My Life’). 

Styles welcomes listeners into his thirteen song tracklist, and is unapologetic in his self-referential style of storytelling. He smoothes over any residual doubt critics may have from his young and unassuming boyband days with his newfound self-assurance, as well as the occasional tongue-in-cheek remark he throws in.

Styles has etched himself a name that is pulsing with 80s fever, exciting sonic landscapes and a lyrical magnetism. Listeners are forced to reckon with this new era, come hell or high water. He opens the door and doesn’t apologise for the decor, furniture or the lights. 

We are, after all, simply guests in his house. 

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