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We're sorry Harry Styles, but we expected better than this

Sign of the Times doesn't quite hit the mark

We're sorry Harry Styles, but we expected better than this
07 April 2017

He bided his time, but Harry Styles has finally unveiled his first post-One Direction solo song.

Zayn bolted first, breaking a million hearts in the process before reemerging as a sexed up R&B slinker with ‘Pllowtalk’. Niall went next after the band had gone on ‘hiatus’ with the thoroughly pleasant folky little number ‘This Town’, then Louis gave us the inevitable ‘fine will this do’ EDM collab with Steve Aoki. Liam’s off having his baby with Cheryl which finally left the field clear for the big fish. The main man. Yer boy Harry.

He’s always been the coolest member of One Direction. He frequently wears ridiculous outfits and looks amazing in them. Keith Richards is clearly his style icon. He went for massive, long hair and pulled it off. He even – after all the fame and all the adulation – still seems like a properly nice guy. He’s still only 23. It’s crazy. Everyone knows he’ll be the biggest solo artist out of all of them.

But then everyone said that about Gary Barlow when Take That split up didn’t they.

The first rumours about Harry’s solo stuff gave us the tantalising proposition that he’d been working with uber-hitmaker Max Martin. It was apparently going to be pure pop. Balls out stuff. None of this ‘I’m an artist and I need to express myself’ stuff – Harry was going to (continue to) be a massive pop star. It’s what we need. We need massive pop stars. They make life fun.

Then earlier this week came new rumours: his first track was going to sound like Prince and David Bowie.

Yeah, right. We chortled. We love you Harry, but Prince and Bowie you ain’t. Still, at least that sounds like he’s been aiming high, right?

And come this day, Friday 7 April 2017, his debut track was unveiled on Radio 1. Here it is:

They weren’t joking about the Prince and Bowie thing were they. Because this is a song that is like a perfectly simmered pastiche of ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Purple Rain’, except absolutely nowhere near as good as either of them.

We hate to blunt, but blunt is what we’re here to be – this is like a glossy, slightly-more-thoughtful-than-X-Factor X-Factor version of a reimagining of a ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Purple Rain’ mashup. They’ve gone for the epic length of ‘Purple Rain’, but without having access to Prince’s stunning vocals or guitar work, and nicked the ‘70s drum sound and sonic palette of ‘Life on Mars’ without having access to the genius musicians who played on that.

It’s not all bad.

Harry’s vocals are really top notch. He really sounds like he means it. Consider us seriously impressed.

It’s not a bad song per se. It’s clearly good. If Emeli Sande had released this, we’d have been thoroughly unsurprised. And she’d have performed it at a forthcoming sports event and you’d have nodded along and thought to yourself ‘that’s a nice song which I will enjoy hearing on Magic FM in the coming months’.

And at least one fan likes it:

But Harry. Come on mate. You had access to the best songwriters in the world. Literally every single one of them would have snapped off a limb to write your first single. You had, theoretically at least, access to every single new song in the world to pick from.

Now, he’s not gone outlandish; the song’s been co-written with Jeff Bhasker, who co-wrote ‘Uptown Funk’ and Fun’s ‘We Are Young’. There’s some pedigree there.

But is this really the best unreleased song in the world at this current moment in time? We don’t think so.

But fine, you’ve gone for this song. Why not go the whole hog and record it like a ‘70s record? Why does it still sound so ‘digital’? Why is there so little real musical dynamic? Why did you wearily agree to stick the inevitable gospel choir at the end? Why by the fifth minute are we idly looking out the window wondering when it will finish?

For anyone who thinks we’re being too harsh, just imagine if Harry had come back with ‘Uptown Funk’. Or ‘We Found Love’. Or ‘That’s What Makes You Beautiful’ come to think of it. Or something that sounds nothing like anything we’ve ever heard before and blown our heads off. Just imagine. While Zayn’s album might have been boring, at least he had the good sense to open up his account with the brilliant and bold ‘Pillowtalk’, that sounded both futuristic, and like a proper bloody exciting, strutting pop song.

We’ve already got Ed Sheeran, we don’t need another singer peddling nice, inoffensive, worthy stuff. We need some explosions. We need some Style.

The second single better be good, Harry.