Is former boy band heartthrob Harry Styles the new Jeff Buckley? No, of course not, that’s silly, but you’d be forgiven for initially thinking that when hearing the opening track of Styles’ eponymous debut album, “Meet Me in the Hallway,” a somber acoustic ballad whose ethereal quality and wisp-y vocal performance would not be out of place on Buckley’s seminal Grace.
Buckley is one of several artists to whom the sonic landscape of the album harkens back to; the elegiac “Sign of the Times,” the album’s debut single, recalls the grandiose power-pop ballads of Badfinger and The Raspberries. “Only Angel” sounds like an outtake from Chris Cornell’s 1999 solo debut Euphoria Morning.
If, however, you think I’m accusing Styles of shamelessly imitating artists with richer, more dynamic careers than him in an effort to be taken seriously, I am not. While he certainly wears his influences on his sleeve, Styles still brings his own unique personality and charisma to each of the album’s 10 songs, all of which range from ‘good’ to ‘excellent.’ Some of the album’s highlight include the aforementioned “Sign of the Times,” the slinky “Carolina,” the seedy ‘girl gone bad’ blues rocker “Kiwi,” and the somber “Ever Since New York,” another song with a very Buckley-esque quality.
More impressive than the quality of the songs is Styles’ vocal capabilities; even in the slightest 1D songs, Styles showed himself to be quite a formidable singer, but here he really shows his chops, taking on a variety of tones and colors that show incredible prowess. “Sign of the Times” is probably the best example of Styles’ newfound capabilities, alternating between full throated, emotive belting and tender, Buckley-esque falsetto crooning with incredible ease.
Time will tell if Styles’ debut is a signpost for future greatness for the maturing former teen idol or a fluke; either way, he’s got my attention.
Harry Styles is available through Erskine and Columbia Records. Always support the artist.