A lot has changed for Harry Styles in the two-and-a-half years between his second and third solo album releases — but perhaps most significantly, he now has smash hits. With 2019’s Fine Line, the One Direction standout synthesized the star-crossed classic rock ambitions of his 2017 self-titled debut into sumptuous, soft-edged pop, and achieved top 40 enormity with “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar,” the latter his first Hot 100 chart-topper.
Styles was already headlining arenas before those songs took off — the 1D diehards are both loyal and plentiful — but their crossover appeal solidified him as a cross-generational superstar, capable of making albums that get endlessly streamed by teens and hits that their parents can hum along with effortlessly. The fact that “As It Was,” the lead single from third solo LP Harry’s House, has quickly become Styles’ biggest chart hit to date shouldn’t be a surprise: his full commercial potential has been unlocked, and now, everyone is demanding more of what he’s selling.
Another result of such mainstream success? Harry’s House is Styles’ loosest, least fussy solo album to date, the sound of an artist in a rarefied pop star zone, comfortable in his environment and not having to worry about any unkempt corners of himself. Harry’s House boasts synths and rhythms designed to soundtrack lazy summer nights, conversational lyrics that revel in personal detail, ballads that opt for hushed resonance over emotional bombast, and a voice, deepened with time, that doesn’t need to overreach in order to impress.
If Fine Line offered blasts of euphoria, Harry’s House is more downright fun — a well-rounded, effervescent crowd-pleaser that exhales when past projects tried to gulp air. Styles’ experimental streak worked for him before Harry’s House, but this album feels settled in its skin, and truer to the artist he’ll ultimately be remembered as.
While every room of Harry’s House is worth exploring, here are Billboard’s preliminary picks for seven essential tracks from Harry Styles’ latest full-length.
7. “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”
Setting the tone for the album that follows, opener “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” downright struts — every choice here is loud and confident, from the outlandish romantic gestures in the lyrics to the horn jubilee that serves as a hook. If “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” is knowingly messy, Styles also understands the potential of a good freakout, as this track is guaranteed to slay when Styles plays it in concert.
6. “Love of My Life”
One can’t help but compare “Love Of My Life,” the final song on Harry’s House, with Fine Line’s album-closing title track: whereas the latter was a six-minute epic meant to unite its listeners with cries of “We’ll be all right!,” “Love Of My Life” lingers in irresolution and rhetorical questions, the coda to a love that could have lasted but slipped away instead. The ghostly harmonies and finger-picked guitar lick capture that loss, and the track turns inward and evaporates in order to end Harry’s House on a note of graceful longing.
5. “Late Night Talking”
Multiple tracks on Harry’s House recall the dapper pop panache of Phil Collins’ ‘80s oeuvre, none more clearly than “Late Night Talking” — which sparkles above “Sussudio” synth chords and snappy percussion. Styles wants to play panacea for his significant other (“Nothing really goes to plan / You stub your toe, or break your camera / I’ll do everything I can to help you through”), and his earnestness pays off on the track, as the listener buys into the neon glow of his romance.
The chirpy hook and sing-along chorus first draw attention to “Daylight,” but the songwriting in the verses highlight the sly synth-pop track: Styles mixes metaphors and makes drug references to conjure a satisfied haze, then shrugs, “If I was a bluebird, I would fly to you/ You’ll be the spoon/ Dip you in honey so I could be sticking to you.” The assonance pushes each line downhill, and Styles shimmies into the nighttime of “Daylight” with a hypnotic warmth.
3. “As It Was”
Weeks after its release and with multiple frames atop the Hot 100 under its belt, “As It Was” gains steam within the tracklist of Harry’s House, where it punctuates the rollicking first third of the album. Following the languid, sensual “Grapejuice,” “As It Was” arrives as a jolt of live-band vibrancy on the album, its mashed drums and kinetic bridge packing an even harder wallop. This is one of the biggest hits of 2022, and for good reason.
“You don’t have to go home,” Styles sings on “Matilda,” an affecting ode to a friend who has faced neglect (and potentially worse) from their family and is trying to inch towards adult stability. Within the acoustic ballad, Styles listens to the story without inserting himself into it, and encourages as best as he can; that type of restraint works in the song’s favor, and “Matilda” creates emotional power with its gentle touch.
The Brothers Johnson’s 1978 soul single “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” is excavated and shaped into the foundation of the most blissed-out common area in Harry’s House: “Daydreaming” perspires throwback charm, recognizing a killer vocal sample and constructing a top-notch, horns-laden funk groove around it. The highlight, though, is Styles’ vocal take, which oscillates between suave subtlety and unhinged howling — the type of performance that grounds a retro track in modern times, and could very well push “Daydreaming” towards ubiquity.