When One Direction went on hiatus and its members went their separate ways to work on solo projects, the most anticipated of them was Harry Styles. His charming persona and elastic vocals had him positioned as the Timberlake of the group -- the one who might be able to stake his own claim in the pop landscape. With his self-titled debut album, he does a fine job of delivering a statement of independence while staying true to the One Direction sound. Working with a small handpicked band and producer Jeff Bhasker, Styles crafted an album that ranges from intimate to epic, while always keeping the focus on his vocals and doing a little self-exploration in the lyrics. He and his team don't really stretch past what One D did musically; there are folky acoustic tunes ("Sweet Creature"), lush introspective ballads ("From the Dining Table"), nods to '80 hair metal ("Kiwi"), and silly pop songs ("Carolina") of the sort that could be found on any One D album. The difference is that with just one guy singing all the songs, Harry Styles sounds more focused and personal. And his voice is a thing of beauty, soaring on the big-screen ballads ("Sign of the Times"), reaching emotional depths on the hushed confessionals ("Meet Me in the Hallway"), and snapping with a Jagger-esque strut on the uptempo songs ("Only Angel"). The album really clicks when the arrangements and production combine into something interesting. "Sign of the Times" is the kind of sweeping, heart-stoppingly epic ballad Robbie Williams mastered; "Ever Since New York" borrows the guitar riff from Badfinger's "Baby Blue," builds a lush wall of Styles' vocal harmonies, and comes off like a well-crafted folk-rock update; and the glammy, Elton John-inspired "Woman" adds some welcome '70s-style weirdness to the proceedings, which is something the album could have used more of. Harry Styles works exceedingly well as a modern pop album and an extension of the One D sound and brand. ~ Tim Sendra
Rolling Stone - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[O]n his superb solo debut, the One Direction heartthrob claims his turf as a true rock & roll prince, a sunshine superman, a cosmic dancer in touch with his introspective acoustic side as well as his glam flash."
Spin - "'Sign of the Times' redeems itself on sheer ambition, Styles delivering every line as if he's making a crucifixion pose on a cliff projected onto a large arena that is smoldering, and Bhasker producing it to sound five times bigger still."
Clash (magazine) - "[I]t swiftly becomes palpable that Styles has a genuine knack for synthesising distinct classic influences from the past fifty years."