It has officially been 5 years since Harry Styles released his self-titled debut solo album and I thought now felt like the perfect time to go back and reflect on it!

Back when this album was released in 2017, it would actually be a few months before I even started my blog and even at that, I didn't start writing long-form album reviews in the way I often do now until 2020. There are so many albums that I love and never had the chance to properly review, many of which I want to revisit like this and share my thoughts on now. For this 5 year anniversary, and with the imminent release of Harry's third album Harry's House this week, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on where it all started for him as a solo artist.

I included this release on my top 10 favorite albums of the decade post in 2019 because it truly was signifying the birth of one of this generation's most captivating artists. Harry's debut album, made up of 10 incredible songs, was just the first glimpse into his potential and the star he has since become. It is also one of my all-time favorite and probably even one of my most listened to albums ever, so I definitely feel like I have garnered enough of an opinion by now to be able to share!

After being in a boyband as massive as One Direction was for so many years, a solo album from Harry Styles could have really gone a number of ways. He could've kept making the style of music that everyone expected of him and played it safe in that way - but instead he took the alternate route of making an deeper album that truly reflects who he is as an artist. The direction he ultimately went feels so authentic to who he is and where his greatest influences come from. His sound is heavily influenced on this album by classic rock artists such as Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, and The Rolling Stones (to name a few), but he found a way to turn it into something modern and all his own.

Having the perspective 5 years later, after Harry has gone on to have a hugely successful and respected solo career, I now look at this album as sort of a reintroduction of who Harry Styles is as an artist. It actually makes it even more fitting in that way that this album is self titled. Coming from a group as big as One Direction was, a band that was so overexposed at the height of their fame, I also think that plays into the symbolism of the album cover with having his back to the viewer. It is such a deviation from what at that point, we all knew Harry Styles to be.

"We started the record without a label, so the start of the process didn’t feel like I was making any sort of commitment and I didn’t feel any pressure, like ‘You have to make this,’ or anyone have an influence on what they thought I should be making. It was just a group of us writing stuff to have fun ... and seeing what came out with the thought that I would actually play them myself," Harry said in a 2017 interview with the executive producer Jeff Bhasker and journalist Cameron Crowe at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. "I think that’s a large part of the record is that it started that way. It didn’t start from, what do they want? I think if you’re lucky, I didn’t go into making the album or leave the band coming out of it feeling suppressed or feeling like I never got to write what I wanted to write. I loved being in the band so much and got to learn so much, and with this, I felt like I could just have a good time working out what it would sound like if I made an album.” 

Looking at the tracklist of this album, these 10 songs create such a cohesive storyline and such a beautiful atmosphere for the listener.

An instant classic for me is his debut single "Sign of the Times" - an emotional, yet hopeful, piano ballad about overcoming grief and hardship. Like I said, a song like this wouldn't necessarily be expected of someone in his position to release as their debut single, but ever since then Harry has done the unexpected when it comes to his music and it continously pays off so well for him. In an interview with BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, he said; "It’s a bit weird, I feel like I’ve been hibernating for so long now and you hear it in the safety of the studio and now it’s time to give birth...it’s the song I’m most proud of writing."

It is such a powerful song, and one that I will always remember where I was when I first heard it. I feel like there is even more sentiment and meaning behind this song for myself and so many others since this was released, especially with what we have all collectively gone through the past couple of years. There are so many ways to interpret the meaning of the lyrics, but for his first Rolling Stone interview in 2017, Harry explained his perspective behind the song; "The song is written from a point of view as if a mother was giving birth to a child and there’s a complication. The mother is told, ‘The child is fine, but you’re not going to make it.’ The mother has five minutes to tell the child, ‘Go forth and conquer.’" A song like this I think will transcend generations and decades from now we will all still be singing it, it's an instant classic in my opinion. 

Another favorite of mine has always been "Carolina", which is one of the more catchy and lighthearted songs on the album that never gets old for me. It has some of the best production from the album, as well as some of the most memorable lyrics! "Woman", is another that I simply think is one of his best songs, both lyrically and vocally and is so underrated in his discography.

Slower ballads like "Two Ghosts" and "Ever Since New York" are also really beautiful and truly showcase his vocal range. I also can't help but mention that I love so many of the references to Taylor Swift's 1989 in these songs too! In the places where it sometimes feels like he's holding back lyrically, I think was improved upon greatly when it came to his follow up of Fine Line, which was full of deeply honest and vulnerable moments. In his interview with Variety in 2020, he reflected on the album; "I love that album so much because it represents such a time in my life, but when I listen to it - sonically and lyrically, especially - I can hear places where I was playing it safe. I was scared to get it wrong." 

Songs like "Kiwi" and "Only Angel" are both really fun and guitar-driven rock songs, which are the points of this album where it feels like he isn't trying to play it "safe" as much as other tracks. This style of rock is a genre that Harry shines in and I would love to see him continue to explore in his future releases. Thinking back to the first time I saw him live, "Only Angel" was the show's opener and "Kiwi" was the encore, which served as perfect bookends to that set list. Even when I saw him again in 2021 for Love On Tour, those two songs were still highlights of the night.

"Kiwi" to this day is one of his best songs to hear live - all 3 times I saw him in concert, the ground of Madison Square Garden was literally shaking as if there was an earthquake! It's such an electrifying concert experience every time!

Hearing this album live in it's entirety in 2018 also gave me a whole new appreciation for so many of these songs when I saw them come to life on stage. If you have ever been to one of his shows, I'm sure you know what I mean!

Seeing where collaborations with his now frequent cowriters and producers such as Kid Harpoon, Tyler Johnson, Mitch Rowland, and others started with this album, shows that this was just the beginning of all that was to come and the magic they would create together!

The opening and closing tracks, "Meet Me In The Hallway" and "From The Dining Table", respectively are two of the most personal songs on this album and give a glimpse into who he is at a deeper level. "Meet Me In The Hallway" centers around dealing with both addiction and recovery, with the repeated line "I gotta get better" over and over. The psychadelic, yet subdued production, paired with the pleading tone of his voice, is a highlight of the album and a perfect introduction.

With "From The Dining Table", he offers even deeper emotional insight. He sounds solemn and heartbroken with lyrics like "comfortable silence is so overrated", and "even my phone misses your call, by the way". It all builds up to the repetition of "maybe one day you'll call me, and tell me that you're sorry too". Ending with a song like this in a way saves one of the best for last, his performance is just so incredible on this song in every way.

Overall, Harry Styles' debut album is such a masterpiece and one that only continues to get better as time goes on. After countless listens, I'm still finding new aspects of this album that I love and constantly rotating what my favorite song at the moment is from it!

Thanks for reading! If you have listened to this album, I would love to hear all of your thoughts in the comment section below. I plan on reviewing some other older albums in the future, so if you have any recommendations, let me know! Be sure to come back soon for my full review of Harry's House soon! Treat People With Kindness!! 😊

-Melissa ♡

Photo Credit: Harry Styles, Columbia Records, Erskine Records and Harley Weir

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