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All Styles, no substance

Columbia Records (via hstyles.co.uk)

Joshua Irvine

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Harry Styles, if you haven’t heard, is trying to reinvent himself.

He’s appearing in a new movie – a Christopher Nolan one, no less. He’s on the cover of Rolling Stone with a story written by no less than music-journalist-turned-semi-autobiographical-director Cameron Crowe. He’s even got (*gasp*) a new haircut.

So with all this shocking change, it’s nice to know that one thing still remains constant – in that Styles continues to be a pretty mediocre musician.

“Sweet Creature,” the second single on his upcoming eponymous album, emulates two artists; Justin Bieber, whose 2015 reinvention with a series of hit singles had the unprecedented impact of making the non-accounting part of the music world respect Justin Bieber, and Cat Stevens, whose dopey acoustic charm Styles attempts to pillage for his own song.

It doesn’t work for two reasons; both, conveniently, can be explained in terms of these two artists.

The first is a matter of modernity. Bieber’s revival latched onto the biggest pop trends of 2015 and forced them together into something listenable. Styles, by contrast, seems to have drawn from the indie pop scene of the early 2010s (Of Monsters and Men comes to mind), with a few moans that sound like they were left on the cutting room floor of Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” Contributing to this “Worst of” compilation of dated sound bytes are some third-act backing vocals that sound like a barbershop quartet trying to jeer in sync.

The second is a matter of simply sounding interesting. Styles goes for an acoustic minimalist feel indicative of folk pop, which wouldn’t be half bad if he had a more engaging voice. Without the usual collection of One Direction’s autotuned backing vocals and digital beats, we’re left with the choice between focusing in on Styles’ dull wail or a repetitive series of guitar chords that sound like they were thought up by a pick-up artist who improvised a discarded guitar into his routine.

And picking the voice gets the joy of hearing the same cliched lyrics about youth lost and the communication problems that seem to dominate the lives of all teen pop stars. Maybe this is his breakup song for Zayn?

One hopes that Styles has something more engaging to offer from his album than “Sweet Creature.” At the very least he needs a better title – even The Correspondent’s resident 1D maniac hates it.

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All Styles, no substance