Is he all trousers and no mouth? Fans will love Harry Styles’s pick ‘n’ mix pop in his third studio album Harry’s House, but it feels a bit like bric-a-brac
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For pop stars, like the Royal Family, dressing up is part of the job. Right now, nobody does it better than Harry Styles. He’ll wear anything as long as it’s outlandish, from billowing Oxford bags to a 14th Century-style corset.
Styles is an equal-opportunities clothes horse. You can find his 25 best outfits chosen by Esquire magazine, or his 20 best by Cosmopolitan. To browse them is to admire his fearless sense of fun. You just wonder about one thing – is he all trousers and no mouth?
His third album gives a mixed answer.
For pop stars, like the Royal Family, dressing up is part of the job. Right now, nobody does it better than Harry Styles (above, at Coachella 2022)
The dressing-up habit persists: Styles comes to his own party as The Weeknd, the all-conquering 1980s revivalist, and as several 1980s originals – Morten Harket from a-ha, Stevie Wonder in his synth phase, Prince and Level 42 (both at the same time). He also dips into the 1960s to be Simon & Garfunkel. It all leaves the music feeling a bit like bric-a-brac.
Commercially, it makes perfect sense. The a-ha homage, As It Was, spent six weeks at No 1, and there may be more in the bouncy Late Night Talking, the frisky Cinema and the gooey Love Of My Life.
Styles’s lyrics, in a radical departure from today’s norm, are not all about him. Instead they’re about ‘you’, the listener. He keeps his voice soft, whispering sweet somethings. The fans will love it, and everyone else will find it tolerable as it follows them around for the next six months.
Pet Shop Boys, too, do their share of dressing-up. For the Dreamworld tour they emerge in headgear that appears to be a set of small silver rugby goalposts. And they play the sounds of the 1980s – the difference being that they helped define them.
Always distinctive in the studio, Neil Tennant (above) and Chris Lowe made the stage their own on the Dreamworld tour
Always distinctive in the studio, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have made the stage their own, too. The design, by Tom Scutt, is dazzling, lights and video melting into one, making for a measured euphoria.
These doyens of dance-pop don’t actually dance themselves. While Lowe plays musical statues, Tennant just strolls around, but he can rule an arena with a wave of his arms.
Three session musicians (including Clare Uchima, who has toured with Styles) add new depth to old favourites from Go West to West End Girls.
Dreamworld ends up better than a dream – more real, more coherent, more memorable.
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