It was Father John Misty who really got us intrigued about Harry Styles’ new solo material – not a sentence we ever expected to be writing. Last month, the arch singer-songwriter responded to a question on Twitter asking who his favourite member of One Direction was with the response: “Harry’s new album is FUCKING INSANE.”
Truth be told, nobody’s really been sure what to expect from Styles – would he follow the synth-soul zeitgeist, like his former bandmate Zayn Malik? Stick to his boyband roots? Or – as industry rumours suggested tantalisingly – swerve down a road marked “David Bowie meets Queen”.
Turns out it was the latter. Debuting Sign of the Times (title all his own work) on Nick Grimshaw’s Radio 1 breakfast show, Styles has revealed his first solo single to be a bombastic slice of bombastic piano pop that builds bombastically to a bombastic ending.
“Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times / Welcome to the final show / I hope you’re wearing your best clothes,” he croaks, in an artfully dishevelled vocal.
It’s a ballad, but not so much in the boyband style – more the kind of thing a mid-level indie band like the Walkmen might have put out in the mid-noughties. Not that it doesn’t have its pure pop strengths too – there’s a falsetto chorus that’s impossible to sing, a choir to bombastify the end (did we mention it’s quite bombastic?) and some crashing cymbals and widdly guitar solos that Noel Gallagher might have considered a bit too OTT for Be Here Now.
If it is indeed Bowie-esque, then it’s the Bowie of Hunky Dory rather than Bowie the drug-ravaged aesthete of the 70s. There are, of course, many things that made Bowie so special that have been overlooked here – the identity-blurring, the turbo-meta deconstruction of pop music itself. But as a credible piece of indie-pop balladry that moves Styles into a new arena, I’d say he just about pulls it off.