Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Harry Styles: Harry's House [Columbia, 2022]
Any pop star who can make a slogan if not an especially great song out of "Treat People With Kindness" has a head start with me, although not so's I'm inclined to give One Direction another shot. In a career that's evolved aesthetically as well as commercially, solo Harry has worked hard on the details of product placement, and on his third album he takes his boy-group preeminence well past the finest work of 'NSync or the Backstreet Boys. The payoff isn't its sexual candor--that's been there. It's more the way the horns recede after punching up the lead "Music for a Sushi Restaurant," making way for a synthesized soundscape of striking subtlety and charm that easily accommodates the acoustic guitar sonics that add extra delicacy to "Matilda" and "Boyfriend." Even more remarkable is the way the lyrics this soundscape cushion and accentuate achieve a metaphorical reach and narrative concreteness truly rare in megapop. "You stub your toe or break your camera/I'll do everything to help you through." "Science and edibles/life hacks going viral in the bathroom." "I bring the pop to the cinema/You pop when we get intimate." "He starts secretly drinking/It's hard to know what he's thinking." And plenty more. A