Harry Styles branches out with the stunning “Woman”

Harry Styles is better than it has any reason being. First albums from former pop group bands aren’t usually all the great. Think fellow One Direction alum Zayn Malik, whose 2015 album Mind of Mine was a largely forgettable affair, or even an artist like Justin Timberlake. Justified had some thrilling highs, but it still felt like market-tested set of songs, nothing as organic or progressive as what he’d attempt on his FutureSex/LoveSounds followup. So it comes as a surprise that Harry Styles doesn’t suffer any of those same setbacks; he overthrows them. The music on his self-titled new album (out now) ignores the prevailing trends on Top 40; you won’t hear any of the Caribbean influence Drake’s made popular, no traces of rap or R&B, two genres that continue to be fertile grounds for today’s top hits. But Styles sounds more Alabama Shakes than Justin Bieber, a smart, calculated move that never reveals the inside numbers. Take the penultimate “Woman” for example; the song saunters with curt electric guitar riffs and a sprightly piano line, setting its foot inside 1970s AM records as opposed to today’s Clear Channel playlists. “Woman” showcases all the best parts of Styles debut album, all the nods to past legends, all the potential for what he can become.

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