ADRIAN THRILLS: Solo star Harry Styles shows he still has the X factor
HARRY STYLES: Harry’s House (Colombia)
Verdict: Joni would approve
DAVE STEWARTEbony McQueen (Bay Street)
Verdict: sweet dreams are made of it
LYKKE LI: Eyeye (Play it again Sam)
Verdict: Heartache with greatness
Few tears were shed last summer when it was announced that The X Factor would not be returning to our television screens after a 17-year run.
Simon Cowell’s Saturday Night Singing Competition had struggled with declining ratings – and (worse) it was no longer unearthing top-notch talent.
But, as last week showed, his legacy lives on. Last Saturday, the three remaining members of Little Mix, who formed on the show in 2011, performed a tearful farewell concert outside a packed O2 Arena in London. And, this morning, Harry Styles is releasing his third solo album.
Styles, 28, began his career on The X Factor in 2010, first as a solo wannabe and then as the fifth in One Direction, a band that took boy band artistry away from blazers, ballads and choreographed dance routines for something more contemporary. They conquered the world in the process.
Harry Styles performs on the Coachella Stage at the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 22, 2022 in Indio, California
Harry made the transition from bubblegum idol to mature solo performer
Like George Michael and Justin Timberlake before him, Harry has since successfully made the delicate transition from bubblegum idol to mature solo performer.
track of the week
Broken by Palaye Royale
The Las Vegas rockers have a cult following in the UK which recently saw them play a sold-out show at London’s Roundhouse – and new single Broken shows why. Sung with passion by frontman Remington Leith, it’s an arena-ready anthem, powered by booming guitar and keyboards.
Harry’s House validates its status as a true adult superstar. His progress did not come without some stumbles.
His self-titled debut solo effort, released five years ago, jumped between trends, searching for a voice.
But his 2019 follow-up, Fine Line, showcased his charisma and finesse – and the new album hones that approach. There are a lot of throwbacks.
Current single As It Was, now in its sixth week at No. 1, recalls Norwegian trio A-ha’s 1980s hit Take On Me.
There are episodes of acoustic introspection, retro R&B grooves and Prince-style dance floors.
A sense of continuity is facilitated by the fact that Styles has retained his back office team.
British indie rocker Kid Harpoon and American multi-instrumentalist Tyler Johnson return as producers and their bright, nimble arrangements are largely a delight.
Dave Stewart of Eurthymics performs onstage at the Rainforest Fund 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert and performs ‘We’ll Be Together Again’ at the Beacon Theater in New York
On the more pop numbers, Styles sings in a soft falsetto. Music For A Sushi Restaurant, a synth-focused opener, finds him venturing into jazzy scat vocals while bizarrely informing his latest love that he “might fry you an egg.”
Grapejuice is a self-tuned celebration of drinking “a bottle of red” with a friend at Hampstead Heath. Harry’s House clearly has a well-stocked drinks cabinet. Daylight is more syrupy, with Styles declaring, “If I were a bluebird, I would fly to you.” For all his maturity, he can still sing a doe-eyed boy-meets-girl tune to the hordes of screaming fans, now older themselves, who followed him into One Direction.
As befits an album that shares its name with a song (Harry’s House/Centerpiece) from Joni Mitchell’s 1975 album The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, there are folksy acoustic moments.
Dave Stewart’s new record tells the story of a teenager who is visited by an imaginary blues queen set in his hometown of Sunderland
Joni even gave her blessing to Styles’ title choice and – given that she’s once described modern pop as “shallow and shocking” – her stamp of approval is shocking enough on its own.
The shimmering, ultra-lightweight production sometimes sinks into blandness. I found my attention wandering during Boyfriends, an acoustic ballad written with Tobias Jesso Jr, co-writer of Adele’s When We Were Young.
But it’s a confident return from a singer happy to entertain without seeking great depth. Styles may have modeled his look on a young Mick Jagger, but he’s never looked so comfortable with himself as a performer. Six years after leaving One Direction, he still has the X Factor.
Dave Stewart turns 70 this year, but the former Eurythmics member approaches this landmark with all the energy of a teenager. He recently produced Joss Stone’s excellent comeback album, co-wrote (with Stone) the music for an upcoming West End adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife and will soon be inducted (with ex-bandmate Annie Lennox) at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in America.
Lykke Li’s doomed romance songs have made her one of the queens of sad girl music, although the Swedish singer has often soothed her heartache with humor
He has also put his heart into a semi-autobiographical solo album, Ebony McQueen, which he hopes to turn into a movie.
Set in Stewart’s home town of Sunderland, the record tells the story of a teenager who is visited by an imaginary blues queen. His short, sharp songs examine the teenager’s musical loves, from the blues to the Beatles, and his dreams of moving to London.
With 23 tracks – and strings from the Budapest Scoring Orchestra – it’s a sprawling theatrical affair that sometimes goes above and beyond. But its creator is a master craftsman who combines decent melodies and heartfelt lyrics.
The title track is a loving tribute to the Fab Four. Things Will Never Be The Same is a nod to Revolver-era psychedelia.
He also casts a wide net, with musical detours in New Orleans jazz and recognitions from his early years in the folk clubs of Wearside. Released digitally and as a five-disc, two-cassette set (£107), its idiosyncratic approach is the hallmark of one of pop’s enduring mavericks.
Singer describes her new record Eyeye as her breakup from the breakup album
Lykke Li’s songs of a doomed romance have made her one of the queens of sad girl music, although the Swedish singer has often soothed her heartache with humor. His last two releases were So Sad So Sexy and Still Sad Still Sexy.
She’s not so funny on the new album Eyeye, a record she describes as her breakup album breakup. Instead, working from her bedroom in LA, she gave herself a set of rules: no digital instruments; all vocals must be recorded on a $70 drum microphone.
The result is an intimate record on which her vocals are reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, and the analog synths generate a feeling of warm, hazy grandeur. “Night falls, it’s raining and I wake up alone,” she laments on Highway To Your Heart. If this is truly her final breakup album, then the separation is a sweet heartbreak.
Harry Styles kicks off a UK tour at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow on June 11 (ticketmaster.co.uk).
Lykke Li performs at the Barbican, London on October 22 (barbican.org.uk).
The name of Jacqueline du Pré still resonates as a synonym of committed and classy cello. Warner Classics has done its best to keep its recordings available; and with each re-release we seem to gain a few more invaluable performances.
This time — Jacqueline du Pré: Complete Warner Recordings — there is an unreleased Brahms Clarinet Trio with her husband Daniel Barenboim and Gervase de Peyer.
The box set was curated in Paris and everything was remastered by the experts at Art & Son Studio, Annecy, who have built up a formidable reputation for themselves in recent years. As far as possible, this collection is compiled on the principle of “original jackets”, so that his famous Elgar Concerto appears with the equally famous Sea Pictures by Janet Baker.
Du Pré had just over a decade to dazzle her audiences, before she was struck down by multiple sclerosis – she finally had to retire in 1973, aged just 28. It’s easy to get depressed contemplating his career as a meteor – but there’s so much here for us to appreciate.