Harry's world: The songwriting story of Harry's House

Harry's world: The songwriting story of Harry's House

The noise became a clamour when the first reviews landed early on Monday morning, and it’s unlikely to die down any time soon. The third Harry Styles album is here, its arrival signalling not only an inevitable surge of hit singles, glossy videos and spiralling sales figures, but the next chapter for the singer and his craft.

Styles’ third album is a patient, immersive listen, intriguing and prone to wandering off in unexpected directions. He’s been dropping hints in interviews that Harry’s House is a jamboree of new ideas, sketched out with a different approach to his previous two records. He worked largely with the small, tight-knit group of musicians that made Fine Line, their collaboration intensifying this time round. The result is a step up, a move towards a higher echelon.

The album is instantaneously recognisable as a Harry Styles record, but sparks of newness are frequent, snatches of a melody or a vocal line that adds a new layer, a bassline that ups sticks and mooches off for a while. Cinema feels like a supersized, Watermelon Sugar or Adore You-style moment, a giant pop song nestled just after halfway through the record. But as it unfolds to a head-spinning conclusion where words warp and lines swap, it reveals itself to be anything but a conventional pop song. Closing track Love Of My Life, meanwhile, conveys a constant sense of building towards something, initially bursting with bass, then suddenly acoustic and quiet. It ends with a simple, playful piano riff, a move that speaks to the vibe of the whole album in that it’s probably not what most might be expecting Styles – possibly the planet’s biggest pop star – to do. 

Of the 13 tracks on Harry’s House, five were written solely by Styles, Kid Harpoon (real name Tom Hull) and Tyler Johnson, who also serve as producers across the album. Mitch Rowland, who wrote on six Fine Line tracks and plays live with Styles, is credited as a co-writer on Music For A Sushi Restaurant and Keep Driving, and played drums on As It Was. Amy Allen, who co-wrote Adore You, is part of the folk-rooted Matilda here. Sammy Witte featured on Cherry from Fine Line, and is the sole co-writer on Cinema on Harry’s House. He also engineered Little Freak alongside Kid Harpoon.

Aside from LA funk group The Brothers Johnson, credited on Daydreaming thanks to its sample of Ain't We Funkin' Now, the only other fresh writing credit on Harry’s House is LA-based hitmaker Tobias Jesso Jr, who started out releasing John Lennon-style piano jams of his own and went on to write for Adele, Florence + The Machine, Haim and others. The Canadian is credited on Boyfriends alongside Styles, Hull and Johnson. Driven by acoustic guitars, its naked, emotional feel has a kinship with Jesso Jr’s own solo record Goon, released via Matador in 2015.

Recorded mostly at various locations between the UK and US, Harry’s House was mixed by Spike Stent and mastered by Randy Merrill, who add weight and experience to its cast. But the relationship at the nucleus of the album is the one flourishing between Styles, Kid Harpoon (credited together as co-writers on Late Night Talking and Little Freak) and Johnson (who is alongside them on 10 of the 13 songs).

Little Freak – a patchwork of memories that sees Styles sing, ‘I disrespected you/Jumped in feet first and I landed too hard/A broken ankle, karma rules/You never saw my ‘birthmark’ – was part recorded in Tokyo (credited as ‘Tom’s Room’ in the liner notes). It’s the only track on the album that nods to the writing trip that Kid Harpoon mentioned in his Music Week interview, when he was named Songwriter Of The Year in our last issue of 2020. 

“Harry was in Japan and he said, ‘Do you want to come out and write?’ and I said, ‘Why don’t I come and I’ll stay in a hotel room near you and we’ll hire a mic and some guitars and I’ll just bring my laptop,’” Hull told us at the time. “It was a vaguely disguised lads’ trip, but we also wrote some really good songs. There’s a couple we’re still in love with. There was one that nearly made it to the record. We have a couple from there that are really special that hopefully will see the light of day at some point.”

Hull had previously told us about exchanging ideas for new music with Styles in an interview about Fine Line early in 2020, and their partnership has clearly been blossoming since. Their work is by turns minimal and jammed with detail: Late Night Talking is sparse on lyrics, heavy on melody, while the verses on Little Freak are dense with imagery. The two share management and publishing and both Full Stop Management and Universal Music Publishing Group UK have underlined their excitement about their partnership in Music Week.

Speaking last year about signing Styles to UMPG, UK MD Mike McCormack said, “We just went, ‘The guy is a superstar, and they are so few and far between that we have to do everything we can to convince him to sign to us.’ Thankfully, he did.”

McCormack said that Fine Line proved that Styles “can stand on his own two feet and be an original artist in his own right” and said he hoped the follow-up would be “even bigger, better and more successful, Harry is very much in charge of his destiny”. We’re about to find out just how far he can go.

Read our December 2019 Harry Styles cover story here. Read the Music Week review of Harry's House here.

PHOTO: Lillie Eiger

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